The National Park Service and the National Trust for Historic Preservation – two organizations who you would think would be on the same page in terms of the preservation of resources in the United States. However, at the moment, the two organizations are in a complicated position. Yosemite National Park, managed by the National Park Service, is currently working on the Merced River Management Plan. In 1987, the Merced was designated as a “Wild and Scenic River” – a federal designation that protects “outstanding” rivers in the United States . As part of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968, designated rivers “shall be preserved in free-flowing condition, and that they and their immediate environments shall be protected for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations.” Currently, the free-flowing condition of the Merced is being altered by three historic bridges in Yosemite Valley that are built into river.
Currently, four of the five draft Merced Rivier Management Plans that Yosemite has composed include removal of three bridges. In response to these management plans, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has included the bridges of Yosemite on their 2012 list of “America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places”. The bridges in question were build to blend into the granite landscape between 1928 and 1932. Some of the bridges, particularly the Stoneman Bridge, have become icons of Yosemite Valley and excellent locations for photographs. The other two bridges which are included for possible removal include the Ahwahnee Bridge and the Sugar Pine bridge.
If the three bridges are left in place, the Merced will not lose it’s wild and scenic status as the federal act allows minor structures, which were in place prior to designation, to remain. However, these bridges are altering the free-flowing nature of the river and it’s up to the National Park Service to factor in, not only the historic value of the bridges, but their impact on the natural quality of the Merced. Yosemite’s draft plans are not finalized and the public can comment on the Merced River plan up until September. Overall, the final decision will most likely be based on whether managers at Yosemite National Park perceive the bridges as infrastructure or a cultural and historical piece of the park.