Field Notes: Scoping Trip in Yosemite National Park

I was lucky enough to spend the past few days in Yosemite Valley (and a bit in Tuolumne Meadows) to scope out my field sites for the summer and to meet with resources managers from NPS.  I feel really fortunate that this is the summer that I will be conducting field work in Yosemite NP since the Sierra Nevadas had an intense winter with near record snowfall. All of the melting snow is causing conditions in the valley and along Tioga road to be quite unique. The Merced River peaked while we were in Yosemite Valley and half of my potential field sites, meadows along the Merced, are under water.  The flooding occurring in the Yosemite Valley also caused the access bridge to the walk-in, backpackers campsite that we were staying in to be inundated.  My major professor and I had a lovely, unanticipated, 1 mile detour walk from car to campsite (in the dark) on our first night.  The mass amount of water running into the valley is not all bad; the runoff from the snow melting in the mountains is causing the many waterfalls along the valley walls to be spectacular this year. Yosemite Falls (the highest waterfall in North America) is the largest that it has been in recent memory for many of the managers at the park.

Base of Lower Yosemite Falls, June 2011

The purpose of the trip to California was to examine a few of the meadows in Yosemite Valley and identify specific meadows that can be used as field sites for a GPS-tracking study.  Managers at Yosemite National Park are interested in understanding visitor behavior and visitor movement in a few of the 8 meadows located in Yosemite Valley. Most of the meadows do not contain park designated trails, yet visitors frequently leave the trails or roads bordering the meadows and wander into these sensitive ecosystems. The GPS-tracking study will allow us to understand where visitors are accessing the meadows, how long the visitors are hanging out in the meadows, where they are stopping in the meadows, and their overall movement pattern in the meadows.  From there, resource managers can make more informed decisions about how to manage undesirable resource change caused by visitors in the Merced River watershed.

El Cap Meadow located directly across from the base of El Capitan

Visitor from a tour bus watching climbers on El Cap wall while inside the confines of El Cap Meadow

For more information on Yosemite National Park: http://www.nps.gov/yose/index.htm

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Park Visitor, Park Visitor, What Do You Hear?

An emergent issue when it comes to managing for quality visitor experiences in parks and protected areas is sound; or in jargon speak, soundscapes.  The amount of quiet and natural sounds that a visitor does (or does not) experience when in a park or protected area can greatly influence their overall enjoyment.  For example, most people do not want to be in a completely wild-seeming setting and suddenly hear the roar of a helicopter overhead or the engines of a park shuttle bus tearing up the road that is no longer in view. Or your perception of solitude might be ruined if you are out hiking alone only to have an army of Boy Scouts talking and giggling so loudly that you hear them long before you see them on the trail (no offense to the Boy Scouts of course, I was in a Venture Crew for many years and we could have used a few lessons on quiet hiking.).

Recently, more and more studies have begun to focus on natural sounds and the level of natural sound that visitors experience in National Parks.  Not only are researchers interested in how visitors experience park soundscapes but also how to make visitors be more quiet; a task that may seem harder than herding cats.  Just this year two colleagues of mine teamed up with some NPS researchers to examine soundscapes in Muir Woods National Monument and how best to reduce visitor noise levels.

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Latest novel by my favorite author stars a National Park

Since 11th grade when I read T.C. Boyle’s short story Top of the Food Chain I knew that I had a new favorite author (sorry Philip Pullman, my taste matured and you fell to #2). Since then I have read all but one of T.C. Boyle’s novels and most of his short stories. I skipped reading his last bestselling novel The Women, about Frank Lloyd Wright as told through accounts from the four women in his life, because my graduate student life and limited amount of free time has made me extra picky about my book choices. However, when Boyle’s latest novel, When The Killing’s Done came out in February I knew that this was a book that I would make the time to read.

I particularly enjoy Boyle’s writing because every novel has a thread of truth and history running through it. Often times, as was the case with “The Women”, his books are fictional accounts of the life of a real person (Frank Lloyd Wright, Alfred Kinsey, John Kellogg).  At the core of his latest book is not a historical figure but the true history and culture of the Channel Islands located off the coast of California. It just so happens that the Channel Islands were protected in 1983 under The Antiquities Act as a National Monument and “promoted” to National Park status in 1980. As such, the protagonist of the book is a NPS employee and scientist trying to protect the resources of the park from human impact. My kind of story! I started the book last week and, although I am only a few chapters in, I absolutely love the story so far. I am very excited that T.C. Boyle is introducing readers to the (albeit fictionalized) life of an NPS biologist and how the National Park Service struggles to balance preservation of resources with human use.

Thanks to my sister, Amy, for gifting me the book for my birthday!

Book Review from the NYTimes: T.C. Boyle – When The Killing’s Done

Where did I go?

I have been on vacation in Pennsylvania with my family for the past week and am now currently moving into a new house in Logan. Therefore, my posts have been lacking the past week and probably will not resume until I get all settled in at my new place. Until then, check out this article from the New York times about how budget cuts and the down turned economy is affecting state parks.

In State Parks, the Sharpest Ax Is the Budget’s – NYTimes.com.