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Jewish World Review June 27, 2000 / 24 Sivan, 5760

Thomas Sowell

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Lies about Yosemite -- THE SCENERY in Yosemite National Park is on such a grand scale that perhaps it is appropriate that the political lies about it are huge also.

For years, environmentalist groups have been trying to restrict the public's access to Yosemite. To this end, there have been an unending stream of alarming claims in the media, depicting the roads in Yosemite as clogged with bumper-to-bumper traffic and the land as being "spoiled" by armies of tourists.

It so happens that I have visited Yosemite at least once each year from 1976 through 1998-- and found none of the things that the environmentalists claimed. The first year I missed was 1999 and I returned to Yosemite again just last week.

Traffic was lighter than I can recall seeing it in June during all the years I have visited Yosemite. When I looked for a place to park at the famous Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite Valley, I had more than one choice available in the main parking lot and did not even have to look at the side lot, as I often had to in the past. In fact, this was so three days in a row, when I arrived at lunchtime.

At Glacier Point, another popular tourist spot, I arrived around noon on another day and had my choice of parking spaces in its main lot. In the past, I usually had to arrive much earlier if I wanted to get a parking space within easy walking distance of the scenic spots. It was the same story at another popular location, Curry Village, where I could pick and choose parking spaces until I found one in the shade.

Why then all the artificial hysteria? For years, environmentalists and others who want to keep ordinary tourists out of national parks have targeted Yosemite, Yellowstone and other parks as places where the government should restrict access to automobiles that bring in large numbers of ordinary people and their families, as distinguished from the more hardy outdoorsy types who backpack, climb rocks, camp out or ride horseback.

In short, they want the taxpayers to pay for these parks while the Sierra Clubbers dictate who can get in and how they can get around. To some extent, their political influence has already been felt. The big filling station in Yosemite Valley has now been removed, forcing motorists to go miles away for gas.

That filling station was not spoiling some scenic view. It was in a flat area in the midst of all sorts of other man-made structures. What has replaced it is more of an eyesore.

Getting rid of that filling station was a way of getting rid of some of the people who come in cars. No doubt that had something to do with the ease with which I found so many parking spaces in Yosemite Valley and elsewhere, as well as the lighter traffic on the road.

But there is no more reason for Yosemite to be run for my convenience than for the convenience of Sierra Clubbers. Moreover, those who want to restrict others are not about to stop now. In fact, the Clinton administration is in the process of trying to rush through far more sweeping restrictions before its term runs out, and is trying to ride roughshod over those who are protesting, during the period when the public has a legal right to voice its opposition to these restrictions.

Those who are against cars in Yosemite are also against snowmobiles in Yellowstone. One of the government officials testifying before Congress asserted with great disdain and distaste that snowmobiles were no way to see Yellowstone. But obviously there would be no issue unless others saw it differently.

It is the denial to others of the same rights and free choices one wants for oneself that is the essence of bigotry. That includes the green bigots. Their real objection is not to automobiles or snowmobiles but to people-- especially to those who are not "our kind of people," as far as the Sierra Clubbers, backpackers, campers or the horsey set are concerned. For the elderly or families with small children, the automobile is the most convenient way to get around.

Contrary to the political propaganda, such people could not spoil the grandeur of Yosemite if they tried-- and they don't try. Anyone who has seen the view from Glacier Point knows that only a few very hardy souls can trek the rugged terrain that stretches out for miles in all directions, much less climb the mountains or venture into wildernesses where bears still roam.

What most people can do is go to one of the lookout sites and gaze in wonder, taking back with them inspiring memories and treasured photographs. What arrogance to deny them that!

JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author, most recently, of The Quest for Cosmic Justice.


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© 2000, Creators Syndicate