Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Merced River Plan Workshops

Posted by Administrator on May 4, 2011 under Environment, Yosemite Updates

The Sentinel Hotel was located right on the bank of the Merced River and used to release its sewage directly into the river. Ew!

One of the biggest things going on in the park right now, bigger than the waterfalls, and the dogwood blossoms, is the Merced River Plan. This is the process that is going to decide what Yosemite Valley is going to look like in the future, and I’m a little ashamed to admit that I’ve only managed to listen to one of the videotaped workshops so far, and haven’t attended any of them in person. Not only are these public workshops important for understanding what NPS is working with as they try to figure out what they need to do, it turns out that they are also really interesting. (I took a few screenshots of the presentation to share.)

One of the things I learned that was that the Sentinel Hotel used to be located right at the edge of the Merced River and dumped its sewage directly into the water. According to Sue Beatty, this is why the campers all moved upstream of the hotel, and ultimately one of the reasons that so many of the current campgrounds are located at the west end of the valley.

Devils Elbow - pre and post restoration

It must have been a delightful place to stay – right there on the edge of the water, with exquisite views all around. I’m sure many people were attached to that place, had met their friends there countless times and developed cherished memories of that place. Today everyone can see that long term (heck, even short term for the people that wanted to get their drinking water further down the river) this was not an appropriate use of the river. However, I wonder if back then, some little girl cried when she found out this old building wasn’t there anymore.

One of the more striking before and after images, for me, was of Devil’s Elbow in 1993 vs 1995. You wouldn’t think that two years could make such a dramatic difference, but restoration crews and planners managed to turn a tired, trampled picnic area back into a place of natural beauty. It’s almost hard to believe that this is the same location until you notice the boulder in the river in both pictures. Now, I’m told that willows, a sign of healthy riparian ecosystems have also returned to the area. Hoorah! We can make a difference.

A rare orchid was seen growing next to a boardwalk in a once trampled meadow.

A few commented on that sentiment after seeing an image of a rare orchid growing next to a boardwalk in a once trampled meadow later in the presentation. The decisions and sacrifices that we make now – using the boardwalk instead of wandering the meadow itself – can have other rewards down the line.

Plastic into Oil

Posted by Theresa on Mar 2, 2011 under Environment

We have a problem with plastic trash, and a fuel shortage. What if we could just take all that trash and turn it back into fuel?

Akinori Ito from the Blest Corporation has figured out a way to turn plastics back into oil, using a tabletop machine that allows you to feed plastics from the trash into one end and get burnable fuel out the other. At one point in the video, Akinori Ito is holding a bag of what looks to me like plastic recycling, and tells us that he doesn’t see garbage, he sees treasure.

It got me wondering if suddenly the North Pacific Gyre (aka Great Pacific Garbage Patch) is suddenly the new Saudi Arabia. And if the people and organizations trying to clean up that mess are buying up these machines left and right. (Did you know that you could take a working cruise to see and help clean up the North Pacific Gyre with Algalita?)

And if, like me, you wondered if this was too good to be true, Steve Machan, mentions in his blog and in an article for Technorati, a second machine that does the same thing – the Environ Oil Generator.

Is there hope for us (and our environment) yet?

Thank goodness we got caught in road construction!

Posted by Theresa on Aug 16, 2010 under Environment, Yosemite Updates

Well, you don’t hear that too often, but I guess there are always people out there looking on the bright side of things.

The road to our house, Hwy 41, has been under construction for most of the summer. They are doing a major re-grading and re-paving project along the entire section of road from the entrance station to Yosemite Valley, and has meant that for the entire summer, we’ve been subject to 30-60 minute construction delays (sometimes more than 60 min. although that is supposed to be the outside limit, and when we’re lucky, no stopping at all). Fortunately, that’s given us time to perfect our construction delay technique.

Construction delays are nothing like traffic jams. In traffic jams, you’re stuck inside your vehicle continuously inching along with everyone else. In our construction delays, there’s a guy with a big stop sign, and a long line of cars that are absolutely stopped until the pilot car returns with the string of cars going in the opposite direction. That means, that when you hit the construction, you can turn off your engine and hop outside and start looking around, and only jump back in when cars start passing in the other lane. Not every place along the road is as scenic as others, but there is usually something interesting to look at – wildflowers by the side of the road, if you don’t have a beautiful mountain overlook.

Tonight, they stopped us right at the juction with South Side Drive before you make the right turn to Bridalveil Falls parking. As usual, we popped out of the car and started looking around. I found a couple of interesting flowers near the culvert and started busily sketching. Tom uprooted an evil, invasive Wooly Mullein, and then set about making friends. First I heard him explaining to one guy that if he really needed to use a restroom, he could walk up to the Bridalveil parking and catch his friends as they went by there. Then, like a natural-born interpreter, I hear him making hiking trail recommendations and explaining about fire management in the park and how it helps to keep the forrests healthy. A crowd is gathering. He and his new friends are pulling out maps when the pilot car appears, and everyone has to get back to their cars.

As Tom is heading back toward the car, the man says, “Thank goodness we got caught in construction traffic! That was worth it!”

State Parks in Danger

Posted by Theresa on May 29, 2009 under Environment

Living in a National Park is such a luxury. We’re surrounded by vast open spaces and long trails to disappear down. It’s so wonderful to see people smiling from their dose of fresh air, mountains, rivers, and big trees. But it’s the state parks, the ones that are a little closer to urban centers, that people living in the cities can escape to for shorter periods: before or after work, or between other errands and chores on the weekends.

Over on Two-Heel Drive, Tom Mangan has summarized a list of Bay Area State Parks that are under threat. (Ano Nuevo? Mount Diablo State Park? Angel Island? Really?!?). You can find a more complete listing of which parks will remain open, and those which are being “moved to caretaker status” which means that they will still be protected, Government-owned land, but will not be open to the public.

Visit the California State Park Foundation to find out what you can do about it.

Biodegradable ‘plastics’ in Yosemite

Posted by Theresa on Mar 16, 2009 under Environment, Yosemite Updates

Keep an eye out if you’re drinking from a disposable ‘plastic’ cup in Yosemite, or get a ‘plastic’ take-out container. The embossed markings on these can be sometimes hard to read, but most of these items aren’t plastic at all. Look for the words, “Made from Plant Products”, which indicate that a container, cup or whatever is biodegradable and compostable. DNC recently blocked orders of plastic items to make sure managers are ordering biodegradable items instead of the (often cheaper) plastic versions. That means that as existing stocks disappear, more and more of these containers will be environmentally friendly instead.
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No More ‘Freedom’ Water

Posted by Theresa on Mar 12, 2009 under Environment, Music, Yosemite Updates

Water Bottles (taken by shrff14 on Flickr)

Water Bottles (taken by shrff14 on Flickr)

Living in a place like Yosemite, it’s easy to get passionate about protecting the environment. I’m fortunate enough to belong to a team of similar-minded people who get together regularly throughout the year to talk about ways that we can help conserve energy, reduce waste and make our operations more earth-friendly.

The most recent meeting was last Wednesday and I left feeling proud of the progress that we’ve made. Sure, we’re part of a big company, and that means that sometimes (read usually) we run into the red tape and delays that comes with any big company, but there were lots of new things going on that I think we can be proud of.

One of them is that we’re getting rid of imported bottled water in our stores. I mean, really. We have some of the cleanest, sweetest, most pure water coming straight out of our taps, why in the world do we need to ship gallons of water from France?
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Fall Color in Yosemite

Posted by Theresa on Oct 19, 2008 under Environment, Outdoor Adventure, Yosemite Updates

Yosemite Fall Color at the 120/140 junction

Yosemite Fall Color at the 120/140 junction

Once upon a time, a reporter asked a long time Yosemite Interp Ranger where to find the best fall color, and the ranger replied, “About 3000 miles that way” and pointed east. Ok, so we’re not Vermont, when it comes to fall color. Most of our forests are coniferous, but Chris and I managed to find a few splashes of color today on our way from Yosemite Valley to Tuolumne.

The largest, most impressive display we saw were the oaks right at the 120/140 junction. There are splashes of color along the road as well – a couple of red Dogwoods, and some aspen groves, mostly below about 7000 feet.

Red ground cover by lakes behind Pothole Dome

Close-up of the red ground cover by lakes behind Pothole Dome

The Valley is just starting to come into its own. In addition to the oaks at the junction, the roadways are overhung by increasingly golden leaves, and the dogwoods are getting pink. I haven’t been past the Maple near the Chapel, but it was starting to turn about a week ago, so I expect that it’s beautiful. Chris and I made a mental note to keep an eye on the river by Housekeeping Camp over the next few days. There is usually some nice foliage to be seen there when the leaves turn. LeConte Gully (MY gully) is becoming golden again with those narrow-leaved Golden Armada bushes. That isn’t the proper name for them, but Stavast has an amazing painting of them with that title, and it has stuck in my head that way. I remember those bushes provided a stunning foreground for a spectacular view of Half Dome when Tom and I were in that gully 2 years ago. [Note to anyone not familiar with my history with this gully: if you go up there watch for loose rock.]

Red ground cover near the Tuolumne River

Red ground cover near the Tuolumne River

At home in Yosemite West, the dogwoods have just started taking off. Although the trees in our front yard are only tinged with pink, there is a big bush near Bruce’s house that has gone brilliant in the last few days. The other neigborhood displays are getting there, but still need a few days to reach peak.

Driving up to Tuolumne a week ago, my neighbor noticed some nice golden color around Tenaya Lake, but by this weekend, it had gone mostly brown, or blown away. We did find some nice reddish ground cover around the small lakes/ponds behind Pothole Dome, which were beautiful in their own right, but I’m betting it was more impressive a week or two ago. Of course, Tuolumne is always beautiful in its own right, and every time I’m up there, I wonder why I don’t visit more often.

Field Trip to the Dump

Posted by Theresa on Oct 10, 2008 under Environment, Work

It may not sound like the greatest field-trip destination, but the Mariposa County dump is a fascinating place to visit. People say things like “Americans throw away 1460 pounds of solid trash each year” (Annenberg Foundation) which is a big number but seeing the volume with your own eyes really makes that number something real. And it isn’t just the volume of garbage that is amazing, but the composition of the garbage. I was lucky enough to go on this field trip with the GreenTeam – a group of people in Yosemite working to establish environmentally sound practices within DNC.

While we were at the composting facility, a load of garbage from the NPS dumpsters was deposited in the composting facility. In this pile of trash, in addition to the many garbage bags of trash, we could easily see 2 sleeping bags, 2 tents, and a foam mattress, some looking like they were in pretty good shape. The staff told us that it would be easy for us to go camping with the things they find in the trash in a single day. We speculated that long-distance travelers are simply unburdening themselves of things that they purchase for their Yosemite camping trip, but no longer want to be encumbered with. My co-worker frowns and points out that any homeless shelter would have been happy for donations like that.

In spite of the many recycling bins located throughout Yosemite, we also found plenty of recyclables in the trash. They do the best they can to remove these items prior to composting, but are understaffed, and unfortunately, most of it goes to the landfill instead of the recycling center.
Plastic is everywhere. Composting seems to reduce the volume of the trash by as much as 40 – 50% (based on eye-balling the composting vault that was nearly finished composting), and even after the pre-sort, there is so much plastic remaining in the compost that it goes through a second filtration step and STILL has scraps of plastic, plastic spoons etc. mingled in with what you would think of as compost.

The compost isn’t clean enough to sell, but it is clean enough to be used to cover the landfill – they are required to cover all new garbage with at least 6-inches of material (or a tarp) at the end of the day. Using manure from the Yosemite stables, as well as this plastic-y compost mixed with dirt both reduces their cost in purchasing dirt, and also puts this “waste” material to good use reducing odor and deterring wildlife.

I’ve been proud about our move to biodegradable/compostable materials in the “disposable” items that we have in our F&B units, but visiting the composting facility really made me see how that fits into the trash cycle, and just how much better off we are replacing plastic utensils, cups, packaging etc. with their compostable counterparts.