The Ahwahnee Hotel, by National Park Service

Re: The Ahwahnee Hotel, by National Park Service

Postby admin » Mon Apr 25, 2016 8:26 am

Yosemite at 100: Trouble in Paradise
Emotions Run High as Officials Back Off Plans to Return the Park to a More Pristine State
by Kevin Roderick
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
February 5, 1990

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Yosemite National Park

Under a fresh blanket of snow, Yosemite Valley on a January morning is so peaceful that a weary coyote limps unmolested in the middle of a road. Most of the 3.4 million visitors a year who motor up mountain highways into Yosemite wait until the dogwood trees bloom and the waterfalls fill with spring runoff. In midwinter the valley is quiet and the haze hanging above the meadows is fog, not the brown campfire smoke and bus exhaust of warmer months.

By this year, when Yosemite will mark its 100th birthday as a national park, the slow charm of winter was supposed to be easier to find even on busy summer weekends. The National Park Service boldly promised as much in a 1980 master plan that declared -- after hearing from more than 20,000 Americans -- it was time to save Yosemite's grandeur from being buried in "a march of man-made development . . . and fragments of suburbia." Auto traffic was to be banned from the valley. Scores of man-made intrusions would also go, including a beauty shop, cabins, offices and the homes of Yosemite Park & Curry Co. executives, who live on a scenic meadow with afternoon views of the alpenglow on Half Dome.

"Once this development is gone from the park's most magnificent settings, the scenery that inspired the philosophy of John Muir and the art of Ansel Adams will begin to be restored," the 1980 document waxed. But a decade later, the bold plan has been left mostly on paper -- and the future of Yosemite Valley left not much clearer today than it was 100 years ago.

Traffic is up. Overnight lodgings have been added instead of torn down. And to the chagrin of purists, new businesses continue to open -- most recently a video rental store for park employees.

At the once-rustic Ahwahnee Hotel, a grand shrine to some visitors and a symbol of misplaced luxury to others, the rooms were refurbished last year with TVs, mini-bars and videos. Later this year they are slated to get air conditioning to go with the tennis courts and swimming pool.

Even so, park officials say, Yosemite is in better condition now than in 1980. High country forests and meadows -- 94% of the park -- have been designated permanent wilderness. Bighorn sheep were reintroduced. A golf course at the Ahwahnee was torn out. And a recycling center and shuttle bus system now operate in the valley.

But the Reagan Administration and Congress never put up money to carry out the most ambitious visions laid out in the 1980 plan, devised during the White House term of Jimmy Carter. The park's keepers now say many of the goals have proven impractical. And they add, maybe -- just maybe -- the 1980 plan waxed too poetic. "I think that plan was developed with the greatest sincerity," said Michael V. Finley, Yosemite's new superintendent. "But some of the things that seemed simple 10 years ago were not really so simple."

The result has been a storm of protest from conservation groups, lifelong hikers and cliff-scaling daredevils who keep a close eye on anything that happens here -- and who had spent the 1980s confident that Yosemite would become more wild, not more commercial. "Yosemite is a very emotional subject with a lot of people," said Steve Medley, president of the 5,000-member Yosemite Assn., which has joined the protest.

More than 3,000 letters and cards have flooded the park service since last summer, most demanding unequivocally that Yosemite go more natural. "It is simply too easy to visit Yosemite and be negligent," wrote Virginia Hanna of Novato. "Those of us who really want to see and experience the park would . . . happily ride a bus into the valley." "When I take children on hikes through the valley floor the levels of noise and pollution amaze me," wrote Julie Stoughton, an instructor with the Yosemite Institute. "Do we have to cater to the sedentary nature of the American public?"

In a joint letter, the Wilderness Society, Sierra Club, National Audubon Society and the National Parks and Conservation Assn. charged the park service with failing in its duty to protect Yosemite. Those organizations and a new activist group, Yosemite Action, say they represent 1.5 million members.

A target of the anger is the most visible symbol of development here -- Yosemite Park & Curry Co., the concessionaire that operates the Ahwahnee and most other businesses allowed in the park. Company executives vow that they support reducing congestion and restoring Yosemite to a more natural state. But leading conservation groups and other critics say the company, a subsidiary of entertainment giant MCA Inc. -- operator of Universal Studios Tour -- treats Yosemite more as a mountain resort than a national park.

Some frustrated environmental leaders have launched an effort to form a nonprofit group to bid for a new concession contract in 1993. They say the company has used its influence with the park service to stall the 1980 plan -- a charge company officials deny. "Yosemite Park & Curry Co. has been working to water down the 1980 plan," said Patricia Schifferle, regional director of the Wilderness Society. "But the national parks were not created to provide hot dogs on demand."

The Yosemite debate has been alive since before the high country was set aside as the third U.S. national park in 1890. (The valley and its soaring granite cliffs were added to the park in 1906). "The Yosemite is being rapidly converted into an ugly hay ranch," the San Francisco Examiner complained in the 1880s, when the valley's meadows were fenced and plowed.

The hay fields are gone, but now more than a million vehicles a year enter Yosemite. On some summer and holiday weekends the valley roads are snarled and every parking spot filled. Visitors have inflicted such a toll on the valley that rangers last year banned firewood gathering. And scattered through the valley are the dorms, cabins and houses where about 2,000 employees live.

In its 1980 master vision, the park service waxed almost rhapsodic in promising that Yosemite would soon be restored to a more pristine form. "Yosemite Valley is but a mile wide and seven miles long, yet this tiny place on the face of the planet is a premier masterwork of the natural world," the 1980 plan began. "Yosemite is too valuable to use for administration, maintenance, parking or any commercial services that do not contribute directly to a quality park experience."

The plan called private automobiles "the single greatest threat" to Yosemite's environment and also warned that visitors could eventually be rationed -- as traffic is already on busy weekends. But in an update last summer that admitted little had been accomplished, the park service said it now believes practical obstacles make some of the more publicized goals unreachable and perhaps undesirable.

Plans to move offices and employee housing outside the park to El Portal are threatened by water shortages and other troubles not known in 1980, the report said. Money may never be available to build distant parking lots and shuttle visitors into the park, it added. While visitation has jumped from 2.5 million in 1980 to 3.4 million, the park's budget last year was cut 10%. Moreover, the park service seemed to back off from the assumption that visitors may have to be inconvenienced. As the nation's population ages, the report said, Yosemite visitors want to stay close to their cars and sleep in warm rooms with their own bathrooms.

The report was heavily criticized in the Yosemite community as inaccurate. The troubles at El Portal, for instance, were grossly overstated and no different than obstacles known in 1980, several critics said. An unusually harsh critique citing "grave concerns" was leveled by the Yosemite Assn., a nonpolitical fund-raising group that operates bookstores in the park. "Yosemite should not be just another comfortable resort," the group wrote in a long letter accusing park officials of backsliding. The Yosemite Assn. also complained that the entire report "has been handled in an unfair and unreasonable manner."

Unlike the 1980 plan, which was devised after years of public meetings and hearings around the country, the update was prepared in private. Even many top staffers at Yosemite were not consulted -- in part to avoid news leaks, park service officials said. Critics say that led to the mistakes. The park service admits the report contains some errors but insists the update does not abandon the 1980 vision. "It is simply an information document, a status report," said Ray Murray, a regional park service official in San Francisco. "We still are committed to the 1980 goals. We will implement them as we get the money."

But some key park service officials also have begun to publicly complain that the 1980 vision for Yosemite was not carefully researched and leaned too far in favor of nature purists. "Somehow tent campers are considered good and people who stay in trailers are bad," Finley said recently. "I may have felt that way at one time too, but I don't hold that view anymore. Everybody loves Yosemite equally, whether they come by foot or come in Winnebagos."

Though outnumbered by the call for more nature, some letters supporting the status quo have reached the park service. "I have been visiting this park annually since 1977 and feel that every aspect of this park is perfect," wrote Marilyn Fuller of Santa Ana. "I do not find it too commercial or offensive even when it is crowded." More support for that view is expected when another 14,600 pieces of mail are delivered by Yosemite Park & Curry Co. The company last fall mailed 95,000 brochures and letters to recent customers of its hotels and motels asking them to write in opposition to cuts in overnight accommodations. "Please help protect your right to visit Yosemite in the future by writing today," company President Edward C. Hardy urged.

The letter campaign came under fire from critics, including retired park service regional director Howard Chapman, who said lobbying by a concessionaire was inappropriate. But the company was justified in helping its customers make their opinions heard, Executive Vice President Dan Jensen said.

The critics charge that the company's influence over the park service and Yosemite's future is already too great. They say the fate of the 1980 plan will be decided in upcoming talks on a new concession contract for the firm. "The decision will be whether a lucrative private business monopoly will be allowed to continue to dominate Yosemite Valley or whether the natural and scenic qualities . . . finally will take precedence," former Yosemite Supt. Robert O. Binnewies wrote in a letter to his old park service superiors.

The role of MCA at Yosemite has been an issue since the entertainment giant bought the Curry Co. in 1973. Almost immediately MCA proposed erecting an aerial tram ride from the valley floor to Glacier Point and adding new motel rooms and convention facilities. Though the plans were dropped after vocal protests, environmental groups remained skeptical when the company fought wilderness designation for the high country.

According to a recent park service memo, the company's commercial presence in Yosemite Valley has deepened since 1980. A new pizza and ice cream stand were added at Camp Curry, vending machines were placed around the park and a new photo lab and fudge shop were added in the Yosemite Village area. A raft rental shop opened and restaurants in the valley were expanded.

Although the 1980 plan called for reducing overnight accommodations by 17% in the valley, six new luxury rooms were added at the Ahwahnee and 14 new motel-style rooms were added at the Yosemite Lodge, the memo said. Despite the 1980 vision of a less congested Yosemite, the firm spent $669,000 marketing the park in 1988, the memo said.

Saying times have changed, Yosemite Park & Curry Co. officials last month asked for an official re-examination of the 1980 plan. They said the goals of reducing overnight accommodations and tearing out parking lots are out of date. They also argued for keeping their employees and executives in the valley. But the company denies interfering with the 1980 policy. "They're picking us out to be the bad guy, but we're following all the rules," Jensen said. "We don't have undue influence."

By most accounts MCA has raised the quality of service and lodgings in Yosemite and is rated highly by the park service, which has suffered from poor service at other national parks. At Yosemite the jewel operation is the Ahwahnee Hotel, a wood edifice opened in 1927 with huge public rooms and views of the granite cliffs. Its premier event is the Christmas Bracebridge dinner, which requires reservations a year ahead. The hotel also is used for meetings and, in winter, popular weeklong gourmet cooking and wine seminars.

But some visitors, including some park service officials, consider the Ahwahnee's luxury out of place in Yosemite Valley and refuse to set foot in the place. The Ahwahnee style is most apparent in the mammoth dining room. The dress code at dinner is coats, ties and dresses. The menu offers rack of lamb, Belgian endive salad, and fresh swordfish and salmon. A $265 Chateau Lafite Rothschild graces the wine list, and diners can sip Remy Martin Louis XIII cognac at $50 a glass.

Rates at the Ahwahnee bear little relation to costs or other rules of business. They are pegged by law to the rates at two California hotels the park service judges comparable: the Biltmore in Santa Barbara and La Valenica in La Jolla. Thus the Ahwahnee gets $170 a night for a standard room this winter and $370 for suites with a view of Glacier Point.

Curry Co. executives are secretive about finances and refuse to discuss the profitability of their business in Yosemite. But it was disclosed recently through the park service that the firm's gross sales were at least $78 million in 1988, up from about $69 million two years before. Under the contract that ensures a virtual monopoly, the company pays less than 1% of its gross sales to the government -- a fee of about $590,000 in 1988. The fee rate was set in a 1963 contract that expires in 1993. In December, new Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan Jr. called for a sharp increase in the fees paid by national park concessionaires. Saying that some concessionaires were benefiting too greatly from their monopolies, he also ordered an investigation of the contracts and an audit of selected parks. Yosemite was not cited, but last week Lujan's spokesman, Steve Goldstein, said "Yosemite is a glaring example of the problem."

Still, a higher fee might not help Yosemite, which last year cut half its wilderness rangers and ended a popular horse patrol because of budget troubles. Park Supt. Finley noted that franchise fees from concessionaires are paid into the federal Treasury, not given to the national parks. But he said the new contract could require Yosemite Park & Curry Co. -- or a rival bidder -- to spend more money in the park. Environmental leaders, however, say they fear the park service lacks the sophistication to make serious demands in negotiations. "The park service," said Schifferle of the Wilderness Society, "is no match for MCA's attorneys and accountants."
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Re: The Ahwahnee Hotel, by National Park Service

Postby admin » Mon Apr 25, 2016 8:30 am

Yosemite Concession Services
by Dorothy Richards
Manager of Employment, Personnel Department
Yosemite Park and Curry Company, Yosemite National Park

NOTICE: THIS WORK MAY BE PROTECTED BY COPYRIGHT

YOU ARE REQUIRED TO READ THE COPYRIGHT NOTICE AT THIS LINK BEFORE YOU READ THE FOLLOWING WORK, THAT IS AVAILABLE SOLELY FOR PRIVATE STUDY, SCHOLARSHIP OR RESEARCH PURSUANT TO 17 U.S.C. SECTION 107 AND 108. IN THE EVENT THAT THE LIBRARY DETERMINES THAT UNLAWFUL COPYING OF THIS WORK HAS OCCURRED, THE LIBRARY HAS THE RIGHT TO BLOCK THE I.P. ADDRESS AT WHICH THE UNLAWFUL COPYING APPEARED TO HAVE OCCURRED. THANK YOU FOR RESPECTING THE RIGHTS OF COPYRIGHT OWNERS.


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(Yosemite National Park, California)
Seasonal (Summer and Winter) and Year-Round

Yosemite Concession Services operates all guest services within Yosemite National Park. Yosemite, one of the most spectacular national parks in the United States, was created when giant glaciers cut a deep canyon through the Sierra Nevadas. The resulting valley has huge sheer granite cliffs with huge waterfalls. Yosemite Concession Services operates campsites, cabins, lodges, restaurants, retail stores, recreational activities, and the luxury Awhanee Hotel.

SPECIFICS: The Yosemite Park and Curry Company receives more than 8,000 applications each year for its 1,800 peak-season positions. More than 900 new employees are hired each year. Summer is the park's busiest season; summer staff should be available to work from May through September. Applications are accepted for housekeepers, dishwashers, kitchen cleaners, buspersons, waitstaff, restaurant hosts/hostesses, retail sales clerks, hotel front desk staff, drivers, guides, recreation attendants, and wranglers. All applicants are subject to drug testing and must abide by strict grooming standards.

INSIDER TIPS: "We seek employees who enjoy guest contact and are willing to enjoy the Yosemite experience." Apply as early as possible for seasonal positions. Most park employees are required to pay modest union dues and most hiring rules and procedures are mandated by the union. Often first season employees are offered a job promise without any specific position being offered. Employees are then assigned a position based upon available openings upon arrival in Yosemite. The most desirable jobs are offered first to existing employees and new hires should expect to remain in their initial position for at least 60 days before becoming eligible for a transfer to a more highly desirable position.

PERKS: Employee housing is available in the park. A staff meal plan is offered. Employees receive a discount at retail outlets, the park grocery store, and at all recreational facilities.

TO APPLY: Applicants should write or call for an official application from:

Yosemite Concession Services Corporation
Human Resources
P.O. Box 578
Yosemite, CA 95389
(209) 372-1236

To request an application by Email, send your name and address to hr@ycsc.com.

Dorothy Richards, Manager of Employment, Personnel Department, Yosemite Park and Curry Company, Yosemite National Park,
California 95389; (209) 372-1236. Management requests applicants include a rCsumC with their completed application forms.
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Re: The Ahwahnee Hotel, by National Park Service

Postby admin » Mon Apr 25, 2016 8:46 am

Yosemite Firefall
by firefall.info
January 25, 1998

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Yosemite Firefall, Mt. Clark (background), and Nevada Fall (lower left corner).
Photographed by Richard Marklin on May 18, 1963.


History and A Memory

At 9:00 each evening in Camp Curry, the crowd which had gathered for the nightly campfire program, would fall silent. A man would call out to the top of Glacier Point "Let the Fire Fall!", and a faint reply could be heard from the top of the mountain. Then a great bonfire of red fir bark would be pushed evenly over the edge of the cliff, appearing to the onlookers below as a glowing waterfall of sparks and fire.

The spectacle was the Yosemite Firefall, a nightly tradition in Yosemite National Park for some 88 years. I witnessed the Firefall myself as a child and still remember it with uncanny vividness.

At about the time of the 30th anniversary of the very last Yosemite Firefall, I felt compelled to compile this history and recollection as a tribute to the lasting impression the Firefall has had on me, and on countless others who have visited Yosemite during its first century as a National Park.

My intention was to present more than just a formal history, but to also provide a mechanism through which others could contribute to the site by recounting their own memories of the Firefall.

These contributions have been compiled in the last chapter of the history. In addition, there is even a contribution embellishing this opening page -- the photo at the top of this page.

I'd like to thank all those who have contributed to this site so far, and welcome any new readers to do the same.

The Mountain House

The early history of the Firefall dates back to the late nineteenth century, and has been credited to an Irishman by the name of James McCauley. Some of his story is well-documented, but details surrounding his contribution to the Firefall are not as easy to pin down.

Here is what we know. In 1871 James McCauley obtained permission from the Yosemite Board of Commissioners to build and operate a toll trail to Glacier Point. The trail was to start at the base of Sentinel Rock, then climb over 3,000 feet to its destination at Glacier Point. For the task, he hired Yosemite road-builder John Conway and a team of 9 men, completing the trail over the course of two summers. The project cost McCauley $4,200, which he earned back in tolls over the first two years after opening the trail.

With convenient access to Glacier Point now a reality, innkeeper Charles Peregoy built a small hotel at the overlook, completing its construction in 1873. Hikers ascending McCauley's Four Mile Trail to reach Glacier Point could now elect to rest for the night at The Mountain House, with its stunning views of Half Dome and the rest of Yosemite Valley.

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McCauley leased The Mountain House in 1877, but didn't end up operating it himself until the year after his marriage to Barbara Wenger in 1879. The McCauley family ran The Mountain House from 1880 through the summer of 1897. Barbara prepared all the meals and did the housekeeping, and James waited table, tended bar, and entertained the guests.

Now, one account recalls that in 1872, McCauley built a fire near the edge of Glacier Point to entertain his hotel guests. A variation on the account suggests that the fire was built to cook that night's dinner. Then McCauley became upset that not enough people showed up, and out of anger and frustration, ended up pushing the fire over the cliff. Those who witnessed the spectacle on the valley floor were delighted and amazed, and James McCauley had a hit on his hands.

As colorful as this account may be, it is probably somewhat of a distortion of the truth. If the fire was built to entertain guests, it would have had to occur in 1880, or at the very earliest 1873, when The Mountain House was completed. However, there are indications that McCauley did not actually find innkeepers to run the hotel until 1877, when he leased the operation to Thomas and Elizabeth Glynn. And that would place the event much later in the 1870's.

Significantly, we do have an account by one of McCauley's twin sons, Fred McCauley, placing the first Firefall in 1872, and he didn't offer any explanation for why the fire was built or who was there to witness it, stating simply: "Father started the Firefall in 1872 when he pushed his campfire over the Glacier Point cliff."

Fred McCauley went on to detail how he and his twin brother John were employed to prepare the Firefalls for guests in the valley:

"When my brother and I were eight years old, father bought each of us a jackass. We attended school by riding our mules down the Four Mile Trail to the Valley. It took ninety minutes. If a tourist wanted a Firefall, we collected $1.50, the standard fee, before we rode back up the trail to Glacier Point. We had a pack animal that we used to carry provisions for the hotel on our return trip. On the Fourth of July, a collection often amounted to ten or twenty dollars. Then my brother and I were packing wood out to the point on our jackasses for at least two days."


When visitors requested a Firefall they would meet the boys when they left school at 3:30, which was actually a half hour early. The teacher allowed their early departure so they could reach home before nightfall. For their fee, the boys would haul the wood to the top and prepare the fire; and they were eager to do so, since they not only got out of school early, but also got to keep all the money. When the family left the hotel in 1897, the boys had saved some $200 apiece from their Firefall assignment.

The Stentor

David and Jennie Curry moved to Yosemite Valley in 1899 and established a family campground at the base of Glacier Point, called Camp Curry. The camp opened for business on June 1, 1899 and provided accommodations in as many as seven canvas tents, beneath the towering cliff, at a nightly rate of $2. Many, including Yosemite pioneer Galen Clark, predicted that the enterprise wouldn't succeed, since the site was so cold and isolated. Most visitors still preferred the more comfortable accommodations that could be had at the Sentinel Hotel for $4 a night. That summer 4,500 people visited Yosemite Valley and only 290 of them stayed at Camp Curry.

But David Curry had a few ideas to make his camp more attractive to visitors, and one of them was the reintroduction of the Firefall. The attraction was seen only rarely after McCauley's departure from Glacier Point, but Curry intended to make it a nightly tradition. He saw a clear commercial potential in the Firefall, reasoning that crowds would gather each night for the event, and end up patronizing his dining and camping concessions. And it certainly worked! One of the great advantages of staying at Camp Curry, was the very fact that it was isolated in its corner of the valley. Many campers preferred the seclusion of the camp, but most importantly, from the camp one had a perfect view of the Firefall each night.

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David Curry was well known for his booming voice. He would greet visitors to his camp with a resounding "WELCOME!" which could be heard from a great distance, and would similarly see his guests off by yelling "FAREWELL!" as their wagons pulled away from the main gate. Curry's nickname was "The Stentor", a reference to his loud voice, as illustrated by this little bit he would recite each night at the campfire program as an introduction to the Firefall:

"The original Stentor was a captain in the Greek army in the days of Homer and the Iliad. It was said of him that he could command 10,000 troops by the use of a megaphone. But the modern Stentor lives at Camp Curry in Yosemite Valley, and his voice is heard at Glacier Point, eleven miles distant by the long trail."


He would then throw his head back, cup his mouth with his hands, and shout to the fire tender on Glacier Point, "Is the fire ready?" The faint answer could then be heard, "The fire is ready!" followed by Curry's roaring command "Let 'er go Gallagher!" And the glowing embers would begin their plunge off the edge of the cliff to their resting place on a ledge 1,700 feet below. Presumably Gallagher was the regular fire tender at that time. The call was changed to "Let the Fire Fall!" in later years.

The Firefall was cancelled for a 4 year period between 1913 and 1916 due to a disagreement between David Curry and the Assistant Secretary of the Interior at the time, Adolph C. Miller. Curry had been attempting to convince the Department to sign off on his plans for expanding Camp Curry. But his plans ran counter to the Department of Interior's wishes to halt further expansion in the valley, and to take a more active role in supervising the National Parks. It was not uncommon for Curry to openly complain about the Department and Secretary of the Interior during his nightly campfire programs, and this got back to Miller. The Secretary reportedly took away the Firefall as a way of retaliating against Curry for his belligerence, saying:

"We are not going to do anything for you. I'm not going to give you anything you ask for. Furthermore, I'm going to take something away from you... I'm going to take the Firefall away. There will be no Firefall."


The Firefall was reinstituted in the summer of 1917, however David Curry never got a chance to see the spectacle again, as he died of blood poisoning in April of that year.

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The Curry Legacy

Curry's wife Jennie and son Foster Curry (young Foster pictured here at age 11) took over the operations of Camp Curry after David Curry's death. The highlight of that summer was the reintroduction of the Firefall, described by employee John Fahey:

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"My greatest thrill was being given the assignment of throwing the first Firefall from Glacier Point. Another fellow and I climbed the Ledge Trail to gather pine cones, start the fire and, at 8:30 pm, when the lights were out in the camp below, we heard the Stentorian voice of Foster Curry shouting, LET 'ER GO GALLEGHER."


During World War I, one of the fire builders, Herbert Wilson, was urged by Foster Curry to put some zip into the Firefall. He made bigger fires, which created longer falls, and even established a record in climbing up the trail from camp to point in 54 minutes. Wilson worked the Firefall detail for 15 years.

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Another regular fire builder during the 1920's was Alex Beck who would use an open-roofed touring car to haul the red-fir bark for the fire down to the cliff's edge. He would light the fire an hour or so before 9:00 pm then push it off slowly with a long-handled rake. On one Fourth of July he pushed off three Firefalls simultaneously: a big one he dedicated to his wife, and two smaller, flanking ones for his two daughters. During this period, to insure proper timing, a light, that shone from the top of a tall pine tree in Camp Curry, was switched on just before the first call to alert the team on the cliff.

A large warning sign was erected at this time in an attempt to keep people from climbing out onto the precarious Overhanging Rock, and from standing too close to the edge of the cliffs at Glacier Point. The sign was rather blunt and read:

It is 3,000 feet to the Bottom
And no undertaker to meet you
TAKE NO CHANCES
There is a difference
Between bravery and just plain
ORDINARY FOOLISHNESS


When pipe railings were finally installed on the cliff's edge, the sign disappeared. Alex Beck chopped it up, mixed the wood in with the normal red-fir bark, and let it go over the edge with the next Firefall.

When Foster Curry took ill with leukemia, he told his wife and mother that he wanted his ashes pushed over the cliff with a Firefall. But his mother refused, saying: "If that were done, I could never bear to look at a Firefall again!" He died in 1932, and a few months later, a small plane flew over Yosemite and scattered his ashes over the valley.

The War YearsAt the onset of World War II, the Firefall was again cancelled, and was not reinstituted until after the war's end. During the war,Yosemite Valley was used by the military. Camp 11, now known as Upper Pines Campground became a small army camp. And the Ahwahnee Hotel served as a navy convalescent hospital.

Even though the Firefall was in limbo, in 1943 the resident army commander asked the new park superintendent Frank Kittredge to make an exception and prepare a Firefall for the troops. Stewart Cramer, a young resident in the valley at the time, described the event:

"The request was given to the Curry Company and passed along to my father. I was twelve at the time. Together, we climbed the Four Mile Trail, still covered with snow at the top, and let ourselves into the boarded-up Mountain House, where we spent the night. The next day we built the fire, and after dark showed the army and everyone else a near record-sized firefall."


Recent Memories

Nic Fiore, Glacier Point Hotel innkeeper and fire builder from 1954 and beyond, remembers that his normal routine was to start gathering bark for the fire between 4:30 - 5:00 am, so it could be done before tourists arrived to enjoy the view of the valley from Glacier Point.

He would build the fire with 10 wheel barrels full of red-fir bark. Even that early in the morning, invariably someone would want to take a picture with him holding up one of the pieces of bark, and he would never disappoint them. The fire would be started at 7:00 in the evening so that it could burn down to glowing embers by 9:00.

Down at Camp Curry, the crowds would start to gather at 6:00 in the evening to get a seat at the outdoor stage, and would wait two hours for the show, which ran from 8:00 to 9:00, ending with the Firefall as its finale. The fire builder on Glacier Point and another individual near the Camp Curry stage would signal to each other by flashlight. When contact was made, the calls would begin.

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The fire caller at Camp Curry would yell in a loud voice: "Hello Glacier!" In the dead silence, the crowd could hear the faint response from the cliff: "Hello Camp Curry!" The fire caller would then yell: "Let the Fire Fall!" And the crowd could hear the final response: "The Fire is Falling!" At that point the fire would be gradually and consistently pushed over the edge. Great care was taken to ensure that the embers were pushed evenly off the edge, to simulate a steady flow and produce the illusion of a waterfall of fire.

While the fire was falling, a performer on the Camp Curry stage would sing The Indian Love Call, accompanied by piano or violin. When the song and the Firefall was over, the crowd would remain silent. Bill Lane, fire caller from the 1930's up through 1942, described the mood afterwards:

"Then there would usually be a pause, and I have seen many people cry at the end of the program. And it would be what would seem like minutes, although it was probably 30 seconds or so, then there would be the sound of a few people bold enough to clap, to break what was really almost a spiritual experience. And then pretty soon the crescendo of the clapping, and you could hear the clapping from the meadows, and then from all over the valley."


In 1954, the year I was born, Yosemite National Park visitors exceeded 1 million for the first time. The Firefall was a well-established tradition by the time my family began to visit the park, and was viewed by more and more spectators each year.

As a child, I remember the excitement of the Firefall. The crowds would begin to gather for the nightly campfire at Camp Curry early in the evening, and as the time for the Firefall approached, the anticipation was almost unbearable. What impressed me the most was when the fire caller asked the crowd for silence, and the exchange of calls began. I was astounded by the fact that the human voice could carry so far to the top of that cliff, over 3,000 feet into the night sky. It was almost unbelievable!

And then it fell, looking nothing like the time-exposure photography that would appear on postcards, depicting that solid line of orange extending down the cliff. Instead, it would be little sparks -- thousands and thousands of individually discernible sparks -- floating down the cliff in complete silence.

It took me some time to write those last paragraphs, because each time I made a revision and read it back I would get very emotional. When I first started researching this project, I experienced similar moments, fighting back tears (or not) while fleshing out the story of this tradition. At first I felt a bit silly getting so worked up about it, until I viewed a documentary about the Firefall, and saw Bill Lane (quoted above) moved to tears by the time he ended his account. The interviewer's voice was breaking as well! What is it about these memories that make their retelling so poignant and moving?

My best guess is that the Firefall was not just a spectacle, not just entertainment. Instead, it approached the sublime in the way that it touched those who witnessed it. Thousands of onlookers felt something in common for that short period of time. It was something parents shared with their wide-eyed children, and something that those children would never forget. It illustrated how grand Yosemite really was; how unspeakably tall were its cliffs; how quiet its forest; and how much we treasured the company of our family and our friends.

The End of a Tradition

In 1968 the Park Service Director decided that the Firefall tradition should come to an end. He reasoned that since it was just a man-made attraction, and one which caused a great deal of congestion in the park, as well as damage to the meadows from the trampling of onlookers, that it wasn't worth continuing. He went as far as to point out that it caused the unnatural and unnecessary removal of red-fir bark from the park grounds. Henry Berrey, who was in charge of public relations for the park at the time, described the last Firefall in this press release:

The Firefall, a fancy of James McCauley's that caught on, and was popular for almost a hundred years, died Thursday, January 25, 1968 in a blazing farewell.

It was a dandy Firefall, fat and long and it ended with an exceptionally brilliant spurt, the embers lighting the cliff as they floated slowly downward...

There weren't many people around to watch. Maybe fifty. Hardly any congestion at all.


In my research of the Firefall, I was struck by how differently writers view the event. The accounts vary from the sentimental to the cynical. We're all grown up now, and such things as pushing fire over a cliff are considered foolish and irresponsible. But for those who experienced the Firefall in person on one of those dark summer evenings: I think they will have changed because of it, and will always look back on it with a sense of nostalgia and wonder.

A pale scar remains to this day, where the fire burned away the cliff's lichen. Someday that scar will heal, and after that, all those who remember the Firefall will also pass, and this colorful and oddly magical tradition will remain only in the pages of history.

About the photo:

The Firefall picture above was graciously contributed by Judy Simpson whose father, Richard Marklin, took the photo in the spring of 1963.

On careful observation, you might question why the sky was light in the photo. The Firefall, as you'll learn in the history, was always presented in the evening after nightfall! Marklin explains how the image was captured:

The picture was taken with a Stereo Realist camera using 35mm Kodachrome with a film speed of 25. The picture was a double exposure. The background mountains were taken one or one and a half stops underexposed at about 6:00 PM. The camera was left in position on a tripod until 9:00 PM when the Firefall was started.

The camera lens was left open for the entire time that there was visible fire coming down the face of Glacier Point. It would be difficult to describe the exact location from which the picture was taken because it was a lateral off of the original shortcut trail from Camp Curry up to Glacier Point. This shortcut trail is now intentionally obscured by the park rangers because of at least two deaths caused by reckless hikers running down the trail and getting themselves killed by going over a cliff.


The slides were in very good condition for being 35 years old. However there was some amount of retouching required. I was faced with a decision between attempting to prepare both the left and right sides of the stereo image for presentation, or combining the two images into one. I decided on the latter, and combined the left slide, which included Nevada Fall, with the right slide which included more detail at the top of the cliff.

Consequently, the photo was created with the age-old photographic effect of double exposure, then prepared for publication using the rather newer techniques available in present-day image enhancement software to combine the two images into one. I was very happy with the final product, and am quite proud to open the Yosemite Firefall site with such a unique and fitting photo. Thank you Judy Simpson, and Richard Marklin for your contribution to the Firefall project.
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Re: The Ahwahnee Hotel, by National Park Service

Postby admin » Mon Apr 25, 2016 8:50 am

Yosemite Fund 2000 Award Recipient
Yosemite's Arvin Abbott Selected as the Yosemite Fund 2000 Award Recipient
by Karen Hales
Yosemite National Park
April 26, 2001

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Contact: Karen Hales 1 (209) 372-1492; khales@dncinc.com
Public Information Number: 1 (209) 372-1000;
Web Site: http://www.YosemitePark.com

Yosemite Concession Services Corp. (YCS) is pleased to announce that Arvin Abbott, Manager of the YCS Grocery Division, was selected as The Yosemite Fund Award Recipient of the Millennium Year 2000. The Yosemite Fund Award was created in 1991 to recognize the efforts of an individual in the Yosemite community who has done notable work to enhance the value of Yosemite National Park as a national treasure.

Arvin began his career in the park in 1973 as manager of the Village Store. He soon was recognized as the fitting leader to manage the entire Grocery Division for the former concessioner, Yosemite Park & Curry Company. Arvin continues to be primarily responsible for the sustenance of those who work, live in, and visit the Park. His contagious enthusiasm, philanthropic endeavors and “never-say- no” manner have endeared him to the Yosemite community and it visitors.

“Arvin is both a model employee and citizen of this community, and he exemplifies the values we hold as a company. We’re very pleased the Yosemite Fund has recognized his many contributions to the community,” said Kevin Kelly, YCS vice president of operations.

It is Arvin’s other good works and invaluable presence in the Yosemite community that have earned him the Yosemite Fund Award for the Year 2000, which was delivered in a commendation by Yosemite Fund President Bob Hansen and Chairman Sam Livermore, and Yosemite National Park Superintendent David Mihalic.

“The good works and wonderful spirit of Arvin Abbott are legendary among long-time residents of the park, and he has truly been an unsung hero of Yosemite,” the commendation said.

Arvin volunteers a considerable portion of his free time to assist with Yosemite’s community needs. He is well known for his contributions through the Lion’s Club, from organizing Christmas tree sales to managing the biannual blood drive, and serving as Master of Ceremonies of the Mosquito Festival at the Yosemite Valley Elementary School. He also is a member and past board president of the Yosemite Community Church. Arvin also sets an excellent example of physical fitness and active enjoyment of the park by riding his bike nearly every day, hiking the many trails in the park with his wife, artist Linda Abbott, and encouraging other employees and visitors to do the same.

The Yosemite Fund is a private, non-profit charitable organization that raises money for park projects not funded through the normal government channels. The fund works directly with the National Park Service to identify and underwrite projects that will have long-lasting benefit to the park. The Yosemite Fund Award is given only to individuals who are part of the Yosemite community and whose work has made a significant positive contribution to Yosemite National Park or the visitor experience, while exemplifying the qualities of courage, diligence, energy, selflessness, sacrifice and integrity. The Yosemite Fund can be contacted at (800) 4MY-PARK; or by visiting their website at http://www.yosemitefund.org

Yosemite Concession Services Corp. is the hospitality management company authorized by the National Park Service to operate lodging, food and beverage, retail, guest recreation and transportation services in Yosemite National Park. YCS is a subsidiary of Delaware North Parks Services of Buffalo, N.Y. Information about YCS can be obtained by visiting their web site at http://www.YosemitePark.com
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Re: The Ahwahnee Hotel, by National Park Service

Postby admin » Mon Apr 25, 2016 8:55 am

Yosemite National Park
by April Rowan
May 2000

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Yosemite National Park is home to a host of natural wonders: thundering waterfalls, massive granite domes, and towering sequoias. Its unusual beauty was prized by the native Americans who once lived in the area, as well as by the European settlers who supplanted them. Today, Yosemite is one of the United States' most popular national parks, attracting about 2.5 million visitors each year. Unfortunately, the activities of these visitors, combined with the facilities designed to attract their business, are threatening to rob Yosemite of its wild character.

Describing the Resource

Physical Characteristics


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FIGURE 1: Yosemite National Park, California.

Yosemite National Park covers 1,189 square miles (3,080 square kilometers) on the western edge of the Sierra Nevada (Figure 1). Approximately 25 million years ago, the Earth shifted, uplifting the granite ridges that had lain below its surface and forming the mountain range. Two or three million years ago, massive glaciers carved out valleys and lakes and sculpted granite peaks. One of the most striking legacies of the glaciers is the patches of polished rock found in the upper Yosemite region; these patches of granite are so compacted by the pressure of tons of ice that they shine like mirrors in the sun. Even today, small glaciers exist in the upper reaches of the Sierra Nevada.

The park's best-known area is the Yosemite valley. Roughly seven miles long and one mile wide, it lies between 900-foot-high granite walls, which appear to rise almost perpendicularly from the valley floor. The valley features some of the park's most impressive granite peaks, including El Capitan, the Cathedral Rocks, and the Three Brothers. Their massive size and elegant, sculpted lines give the valley the air of a cathedral. Flowing through the valley is the Merced River, which forms some of the park's spectacular cataracts. Yosemite Falls, North America's highest waterfall, thunders down 2,610 feet (783 meters) in three stages.

Biological Characteristics

Yosemite National Park is home to a multitude of species. Although some original inhabitants, including the wolf, have been extirpated from the park, it is still home to over 70 species of mammals, including elk, mule deer, and black bear. It also contains at least 1,200 species of flowering plants and 37 tree species. Of the plants, eight are considered endangered under the Endangered Species Act, and 37 are designated rare by the state or the park.

Vegetation types range from those commonly found in the California deserts and lowlands to those native to glacial regions in Canada and Alaska. The foothill belt, generally dry and warm, extends up to an average altitude of 3,000 feet (900 meters); vegetation is largely shrubs and grass. The yellow pine belt extends between 3,000 and 6,200 feet (1,860 meters) and features a great variety of conifers, including yellow pine, incense cedar, and a variety of willows along the streams. It is also home to three major groves of the famed sequoia, some of which are approximately 250 feet tall, 30 feet in diameter, and 3,500 years old. Species of boreal origin, such as silver pine and snow bush, thrive in the upper coniferous belt, between 6,200 feet and the timberline. Only plants that can withstand harsh winters and little warmth, such as Arctic willow and alpine sorrel, are found above the timberline up to 13,090 feet (3,927 meters).

The many streams, rivers, and lakes in Yosemite are home to 11 species of fish, five of which occur naturally in the region. The others are stocked for sport fishing. In 1972, as part of an effort to restore the park to a more natural condition, managers planned to stop stocking nonnative fish. However, the California Department of Fish and Game protested, and limited stocking continues.

The bighorn sheep, one of Yosemite's original inhabitants, was eliminated from the park by 1914 because of disease, hunting, and habitat loss outside park boundaries. The animal was restored to the park in March 1986, when the California Department of Fish and Game, the National Forest Service, and the National Park Service introduced a herd of 27 bighorns to Yosemite. The addition of 11 individuals in 1998 furthered the herd's ability to sustain itself.

Yosemite is also home to several pairs of peregrine falcons. Just removed from the endangered species list in August 1999, the world's fastest bird was nearly decimated by the pesticide DDT. Though its numbers are rebounding, this species continues to be threatened by the amount of DDT that has accumulated in the food chain in and around Yosemite. While DDT has been banned in the United States for over 20 years, use of the pesticide by Latin American countries and residual DDT in California still pollute the Yosemite area. As the falcons ingest more and more DDT, the shells of their eggs become thinner and thinner. These thin-shelled eggs have little chance of hatching, and so the adults produce few offspring by themselves. To remedy this situation, the Park Service replaces thin-shelled eggs with artificial eggs, and then, just before the eggs would have hatched, it replaces the artificial eggs with two or three newly hatched falcons raised in captivity. The parent falcons then raise the babies as their own. This and other procedures have helped to preserve this magnificent bird's place in its ecosystem; the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will monitor the peregrine falcon's progress for the next 13 years to ensure its continued longevity.

Social Characteristics

European settlers first saw Yosemite in 1851, when an army battalion chasing a band of native Americans (who had been raiding mining camps) followed them into the valley. At that time, there were 22 native American villages in the area that now makes up the park. Within a few years, the army had "conquered" the area, killing or displacing all the natives. The only reminder of their presence was the name of their tribe, Yosemite. The park's Indian Cultural Museum sponsors weekly demonstrations of native American traditions and provides other cultural and historical background on the area.

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FIGURE 2: Yosemite's natural beauty continues to attract thousands of visitors each year.

The Yosemite valley today would be almost unrecognizable to the native Americans who once lived there. By 1974, the valley contained restaurants, gift shops, grocery stores, service stations, liquor stores, swimming pools, tennis courts, kennels, horse and mule stalls, a bank, a skating rink, and a miniature golf course. Further, the tremendous growth in visitors has brought many typically urban problems to the supposedly natural area. Campfire smoke and automobile exhaust pollute the air. Park rangers spend a good portion of their time dealing with speeders, drunk drivers, and thieves. During the popular summer months, overcrowding, noise, and litter detract from the peaceful atmosphere people hope to find in a national park (Figure 2).

Looking Back

The history of Yosemite has been one of a continual struggle between those who have wanted to develop the park for maximum public enjoyment and those who have tried to preserve the beauty and natural quality of the environment.

How Public Use Grew from a Goal to a Problem

The Europeans who settled Yosemite gave little thought to their effect on the environment. Herds of cattle, sheep, and horses grazed meadows down to bare earth; heavy logging also contributed to erosion. Then, in 1864, President Lincoln granted the Yosemite valley and the nearby Mariposa Big Tree Grove of sequoias to the state of California, with the instruction that these areas be preserved specifically for public use and recreation.

One of Yosemite's earliest and most ardent admirers was John Muir. He spent years exploring the wonders of the area, which he described in The Yosemite. Muir reveled in the powerful natural forces of Yosemite: he rushed outside to experience earthquakes, climbed tall trees to watch thunderstorms, and scaled precipitous heights to obtain the best view of waterfalls (Figure 3). Muir was part of the campaign to make Yosemite a national park, a goal realized in 1890. Sadly, this triumph was soon followed by a bitter defeat. The park's second major river, the Tuolumne, flowed through the Hetch Hetchy valley, similar to Yosemite in its grandeur. When the people of San Francisco proposed damming the river to create a reservoir for the city, Muir and others fought the idea. The city prevailed, and today the waterfalls and domes of Hetchy Hetchy are buried under tons of water.

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FIGURE 3: One of Yosemite's numerous waterfalls.

The park was operated by the U.S. Army until 1917, when the newly created National Park Service assumed that duty. The early managers of the park did not share Muir's appreciation for the wilder side of nature. They tried to eliminate factors that might prevent visitors from enjoying the park in peace and comfort. Crews built roads and paths to areas of natural beauty. Naturally occurring fires were suppressed. Animals that might discourage visitors, such as wolves, were exterminated, allowing animals that visitors enjoyed, such as deer, to flourish. From the vantage point of the 1990s, fire suppression and predator control seem to many people to be short-sighted and anthropomorphic, but, to be fair, these management techniques were once widely thought to be appropriate and sound. It was only relatively recently that ecologists, wildlife biologists, and resource managers recognized the importance of fire and predators to a healthy ecosystem.

With the popularity of the automobile, increased leisure time and the dwindling amount of land remaining in a natural state, Yosemite and other parks became increasingly popular for vacations and weekend trips. A few hours’ drive from the metropolitan areas of Los Angeles and San Francisco, Yosemite experienced heavy influxes of visitors. The overuse problem came to a head on the weekend of July 4, 1970. Over 76,000 people visited the park that weekend—a record crowd. Several thousand young people gathered in a meadow, playing loud music and smoking marijuana. Park rangers asked them to leave, to no avail. Finally, a dozen rangers, armed with clubs and Mace, dispersed the crowd and arrested 186 people. Because of this and similar incidents throughout the park system, the Park Service began to train rangers in law enforcement.

How the Park Service Tried to Protect the Park

Soon after the July 4th incident, the Park Service began limiting visitors and auto traffic in an attempt to protect the park from environmental degradation and to preserve the wilderness experience for park visitors. Meanwhile, they worked on a master plan aimed at finding a solution to the park's problems. The proposed plan included the complete elimination of private automobiles in the park, the construction of a mass transit system, and the removal of all Park Service and concession buildings from the valley to the town of El Portal, at the western entrance to the valley.

The Park Service plan proved controversial. In Yosemite, as in most other national parks, all of the entertainment, restaurant, and lodging facilities were under the management of a single concessioner. The Yosemite Park and Curry Company was owned by MCA, a large entertainment company; MCA opposed any action that might limit its profits. On the other side, conservationists charged that MCA had influenced the Park Service's final master plan in favor of development rather than conservation, and persuaded the Assistant Secretary of the Interior to examine the plan. When the Assistant Secretary deemed the plan inadequate, the Park Service developed a more comprehensive general management plan, which was approved in 1980. The plan's main goals, to be attained in 10 to 15 years, included designating 90 percent of the park as wilderness, forever free from development; removing substandard Park Service and concession staff housing and other facilities from Yosemite valley to El Portal; reducing concessioner-operated lodging facilities by 10 percent and overnight facilities in the valley by 17 percent; reducing the use of private vehicles in the valley, with a long-range goal of eliminating them entirely; identifying and enforcing carrying capacities; and improving and expanding information, interpretation, and reservation services.

Amid efforts on both sides to meet the goals of the general management plan, MCA was purchased in the late 1980s by a Japanese firm, thus creating MCA-Matsushita. The revelation that the concession contract for one of the nation's best-loved parks was held by a foreign company brought a public outcry. In 1990, MCA-Matsushita sold its concession rights in Yosemite to the National Park Foundation, a nonprofit organization chartered by Congress to channel private donations to the parks. In addition, MCA-Matsushita agreed to donate $6 million to the National Park Foundation over three years. (This unprecedented agreement now serves as the model for national park concession contracts.) Although the sale provided promising support for the general management plan, full implementation of the plan has not resulted. Many of the general management plan's goals have not been attained, though all were scheduled to be met between 1990 and 1995. For example, identification and enforcement of carrying capacities, especially for overnight visitors, were important steps in preserving the park. Unfortunately, the conservationists' goal—enhancing the wilderness experience for everyone by restricting the number of people who could enjoy it at any one time—was misinterpreted by many people, who saw the restrictions as a blow to their individual freedom to enjoy Yosemite. Opponents of the plan, pointing to the removal of nonessential amenities from park grounds, accused the conservationists and the Park Service of limiting the enjoyment of Yosemite to the young and able-bodied.

In the late 1990s, planners for Yosemite addressed the general management plan's unmet goals by drafting four alternative plans for the future of the park. The plans range from continuing implementation of the general management plan as stated, to developing a comprehensive plan for ecosystem reconstruction and improved management of human activities. (Ideas include a shuttle bus transport system, redesigned campgrounds, and more educational programs). At the close of the century, these plans are still being debated at community, state, and national levels.

While the debate over official management policies ensues, the Park Service has taken other steps to improve Yosemite. In a major improvement, the Park Service has altered the way it manages the vegetation and the wildlife of the park to produce a more natural ecosystem. One of the first steps was to end the artificial suppression of fires. To prevent natural fires from running rampant, the Park Service first had to eliminate an unnatural buildup of fuel, the legacy of decades of the no-burn policy. Sequoia groves, which would naturally be open, were clogged with an understory dominated by white pine; therefore, the Park Service began a series of carefully controlled, purposefully set fires.

The Park Service also has begun a program to return native vegetation to the area. It attempts to eliminate exotic plants brought into the park from other areas, using biological controls whenever possible. It revegetates sites stripped or altered by human activity and reduces the threat of further degradation by regulating the grazing of horses, mules, and burros used for recreational trips or field work. Additionally, it monitors water quality to safeguard against the pollution of lakes, streams, and rivers.

Looking Ahead

As we move into the twenty-first century, work continues on finalizing a long-range management plan for Yosemite, as do the improvement programs already in place. However, the park's future remains in question because the nation cannot resolve the controversy over use versus preservation. For example, in an effort to discourage the daily deluge of automobile traffic, park officials raised the price of admission to $20 per car and remain dedicated to making this problem a priority in any management plan. Yet the National Park Service is also conducting a road improvement campaign, to be completed in September 2000, which will lessen traffic congestion and increase road safety, but which does not address the original problem of overcrowding. The increased incidence of bear encounters further evidences the problem of use versus preservation. Over one, two-month period in 1998, 117 cars were damaged by bears looking for food and marking territory. Though bear attacks are rare when people handle themselves correctly, the rising number of these incidents is cause for concern, both for human health and for preservation of the bears' natural habitat. Likewise, in January 1997, the combination of snow pack and heavy rain severely flooded Yosemite—and left behind $178 million in damage. As flood waters receded, it became apparent that the park's roads, utilities, and other facilities were ill-prepared to withstand even smaller floods. Thus, the National Park Service renewed its resolve to enact long-range management objectives that effectively balance natural occurrences and human use.

In a 1912 argument against damming the Hetch Hetchy valley, John Muir wrote that "no holier temple has ever been consecrated by the heart of man." Preservation, which includes limits on use, must be the top priority in order to safeguard the natural temples of Yosemite and other national parks for future generations.
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Re: The Ahwahnee Hotel, by National Park Service

Postby admin » Fri Apr 29, 2016 8:36 am

Excerpt from "The Last Circle," by Carol Marshall

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CHAPTER 1

For the deputies of the Mariposa Sheriff's Department, the awakening occurred on June 24, 1980, when deputy Ron Van Meter drowned in an alleged boating accident on Lake McClure. The search party consisted mainly of three divers, deputies Dave Beavers, Rod Cusic and Gary Estep. Although adjacent counties offered additional divers, sheriff Paul Paige refused outside help, even a minisubmarine offered by Beavers' associate.

In the shallow, placid waters of Lake McClure, Van Meter's body was not recovered that week, and indeed would not be found until ten years later, in September, 1990 when his torso, wrapped in a fish net and weighted down by various objects, including a fire extinguisher, washed ashore a few hundred yards from where Sergeant Roderick Sinclair's houseboat had once been moored.

Van Meter's widow, Leslie, had been at home baking cookies when she was notified of her husband's disappearance. She was an Indian girl who had no affinity with sheriff Paul Paige. The horror began for her that day also. Her home was ransacked and her husband's briefcase and diary were seized by the Mariposa Sheriff's department. Only she and a few deputies knew what Van Meter's diary contained. He'd told his wife he'd taken out a special life insurance policy two weeks before, but after the search that was missing also.

Leslie was taken to a psychiatric clinic for evaluation shortly after the incident. The story surfaced years later, one tiny bubble at a time. The self-involved little community of Mariposa did not cough up its secrets gladly. On March 23, 1984, Leslie Van Meter filed a Citizen's Complaint with the Mariposa County Sheriff's department alleging that the Sheriff's office had been negligent and unprofessional in their investigation of her husband's disappearance. His body had still not been found, despite private searches by Sergeant Beavers and other friends of the missing deputy. She wanted the case reopened.

Paul Paige was no longer sheriff, but newly elected Sheriff Ken Mattheys responded by reopening the investigation. Investigator Raymond Jenkins, a Merced College Police Chief, and retired FBI agent Tom Walsh from Merced, were notified by Sheriff Mattheys in October, 1984 that the Van Meter case had been reopened and he wanted their help in cleaning up the Sheriff's Department.

Their investigation led them straight to the doorstep of MCA Corporation (Music Corporation of America), parent company to Curry Company, the largest concessionaire in Yosemite National Park. A major drug network had surfaced in the park, compelling one park ranger, Paul Berkowitz, to go before the House Interior Subcommittee on National Parks and Recreation to testify about drug distribution by Curry Company officials.

Ed Hardy, the president of Curry Company, was closely associated with Mariposa County officials, in particular, Mariposa District Attorney Bruce Eckerson, County Assessor Steve Dunbar, and Congressman Tony Coelho, whose district encompassed Mariposa and the Park. The annual camping trips that the three men took together was encouraged by the local townsfolk because most of Mariposa's tax base emanated from Curry Company. Coelho and Hardy were regular fixtures around town, seen at most of the social events. Coelho even cooked and served spaghetti dinners for the whole town annually at the Mariposa Fair Grounds, and purchased property in partnership with one member of the Mariposa Board of Supervisors. In fact, Mariposa was one of the first places he bid farewell to after resigning from Congress to avoid an investigation of his finances.

Meanwhile, investigator Raymond Jenkins had followed the drug trail from Yosemite back to the Mariposa airport, where sheriff's deputies were seen regularly loading and unloading packages from planes in the dead of night.

One Indian girl complained bitterly about deputies using the Sara Priest land allottment (reservation) to grow marijuana and operate methamphetamine labs. Jenkins, by now retired from the position of Police Chief of Merced College, was called in to interview the Indian girl. That same day, as a favor, he provided me with copies of his notes. I followed up with a tape recorded interview at her home in Bear valley. Her father and uncle operated a small auto dismantling business on the reservation in Midpines, and after locating them and gaining their confidence, the uncle drove me out to Whiskey Flats, the site of the marijuana and methamphetamine lab operations. That week I rented a horse and rode down into the rocky, isolated valley of Whiskey Flats. Brush and shrubbery tore at the saddle on the horse and at the end of the dirt path I encountered three snarling Rottweiler dogs who put the horse into a frenzied lather.

Nevertheless, I managed to photograph the irrigation system, artesian spring and pond from which the water was supplied as well as various points of identification for future reconnaisance. I later returned in a fourwheel drive pickup truck and managed to view the trailer and lab shack.

The tape recorded interview with the Indian girl, the photos and notes from my discovery were provided to the Stanislaus County Drug Task Force, but jurisdictionally, they couldn't enter Mariposa County without authority of the Mariposa Sheriff's department. It was a catch 22 situation. Ultimately I provided the same information anonymously to several related agencies. It was not until 1993 that the fields were eradicated, and 1994, before the labs were raided. However, no arrests of any deputies were ever forthcoming. In fact, no arrests occurred at all, except for a few non-English speaking Mexican nationals who had handled the "cooking." The head of the Los Angeles Drug Enforcement Agency noted to a local newspaper that the meth lab was part of a large California drug network, but they were unable to identify the kingpins.


On July 6, 1985, Mrs. Van Meter filed a "Request for Official Inquiry" with the State of California Department of Boating and Waterways stating that no satisfactory investigation was ever conducted into the matter of her husband's disappearance.

That same month, shortly after a meeting at Lake McClure with Mrs. Van Meter, Sheriff Mattheys mysteriously resigned from his position at the Mariposa Sheriff's Department. Mattheys revealed to reporter Anthony Pirushki that he had been ordered by two county supervisors and the county's attorney "to stay away from the Van Meter investigation." But that was not the reason he resigned. The whole story would not surface until seven years later when a reporter for the Mariposa Guide interviewed him.

However, while still in office, Mattheys and his internal affairs investigators had learned the reason for Van Meter's disappearance. A few weeks prior to his death in 1980, Van Meter had driven to the Attorney General's office in Sacramento and reported drug dealing and other types of corruption within the Mariposa Sheriff's Department. This, according to his friends whom he had confided in, deputies Dave Beavers, a fifteen year veteran of the sheriff's department, and Rod Cusic, a seventeen year veteran. Both deputies were ultimately forced out of the department and retired on stress leave.

On that same day, reserve deputy Lucky Jordan had driven to the Fresno office of the FBI to report similar information. According to Jordan, they had split up and reported to separate agencies in the event "something" happened to one of them. The crux of the story was State Attorney General Van De Kamp's response to the requested investigation by Ron Van Meter. When Ron returned home from Sacramento, he was confronted by Sheriff Paige. Paige had received a call from the Attorney General informing him of the visit and its contents, and the sheriff was livid about Van Meter's betrayal. Van Meter had been photographing and journalizing drug activity by deputies at Lake McClure. He was part of a California State Abatement Program which involved harvesting and eradicating marijuana fields in Yosemite National Park and adjacent counties. Instead, the harvested marijuana was being stored in abandoned cars and towed out of town by a local wrecker under contract with the sheriff's department. It was also being distributed at a hidden cove at Lake McClure.

On June 24, 1980, frustrated and angry at the Attorney General for betraying him, Van Meter had borrowed a boat and was on his way to arrest the deputies at Lake McClure himself. He never returned. The investigation of Van Meter's "accident" was initially handled by Sergeant Roderick Sinclair, who could not have known on that fateful day that in exactly three years, three months, and nineteen days, he would enter the Twilight Zone where his own private hell awaited him.

The first substantial hint that a tentacle of the Octopus had slithered into Mariposa County occurred on March 5, 1983 when a Mariposa County Sheriff's vehicle scouting Queen Elizabeth II's motorcade route rounded a curve in the Yosemite National Park foothills, crossed a highway and collided head-on with a Secret Service car, killing three Secret Service agents. CHP (California Highway Patrol) Assistant Chief Richard Hanna reported that the collision occurred at 10:50 a.m. between Coulterville and La Grange on Highway 132 about 25 minutes ahead of Queen Elizabeth's motorcade. CHP Sergeant Bob Schilly reported that Mariposa County Sheriff's Sergeant Roderick Sinclair, 43, was driving with his partner, Deputy Rod McKean, 51, when "for some reason, [he didn't] know why," Sinclair crossed the center line and hit the second of the three Secret Service cars, which went tumbling down a 10-foot embankment.

The three Secret Service agents killed in the collision were identified as George P. LaBarge, 41, Donald Robinson, 38, and Donald A. Bejcek, 29. Sinclair, who had sustained broken ribs and a fractured knee, was first stabilized at Fremont Hospital in Mariposa, then transported several days later to Modesto Memorial Hospital.

Years later, several nurses who had been present when Sinclair was brought into Fremont Hospital confided that Sinclair had been drugged on the day of "the Queen's accident" as it became known in Mariposa. For months Sinclair had been receiving huge daily shots of Demerol, "enough to kill most men," according to one billing clerk. Some former deputies who had feared punitive measures if they spoke up, later corroborated the story of the nurses.

Meanwhile, Assistant U.S. Attorney James White in Fresno ordered Dr. Arthur Dahlem's files seized to prove Sinclair's drug addiction. Sinclair's Mariposa doctor and close friend had been prescribing heavy sedatives to him for years. When White attempted to prosecute Sinclair for criminal negligence, he was called into chambers during the federal probe and told by U.S. District Court Judge Robert E. Coyle to "drop the criminal investigation" because Sinclair's drug problem was not relevant to the prosecution and the drug records could not be used in court. Judge Coyle's reasoning was that no blood tests had been taken on Sinclair at the Fremont Hospital on the day of the accident, therefore no case could be made against him.

In fact, the blood tests HAD been taken, but later disappeared. A significant piece of information relative to Judge Coyle's background was passed to me during my investigation of the Queen's accident by retired FBI agent Thomas Walsh. Allegedly, the Judge was once the attorney of record for Curry Company (owned by MCA Corporation) in Yosemite National Park. I later learned, in 1992, that Robert Booth Nichols had strong ties to MCA Corporation through Eugene Giaquinto, president of MCA Corporation Home Entertainment Division. Giaquinto had been on the Board of Directors of Nichols' corporation, MIL, Inc. (Meridian International Logistics, Inc.) and also held 10,000 shares of stock in the holding corporation. MIL, Inc. was later investigated by the Los Angeles FBI for allegedly passing classified secrets to overseas affiliates in Japan and Australia. It is interesting to note, though unrelated, that shortly afterward, the Japanese purchased MCA Corporation, one of the largest corporate purchases to take place in American history.

Relative to the Queens accident, in the civil trial that followed the tragic accident, Judge Coyle ruled that both Sinclair and the deceased Secret Service agents were at fault. Mariposa County was ordered to pay 70 percent of the claim filed by the widows, and the Secret Service to pay 30 percent. The county's insurance company paid the claim, and ironically, Sinclair was subsequently promoted to Commander of the Mariposa Sheriff's Department where he is still employed as of this writing.

In an interview on March 7, 1988, at Yoshino's Restaurant in Fresno, former U.S. Attorney James White recalled that the original CHP report on the Queens accident was sent to the State Attorney General's office (Van De Kamp) in Sacramento. The report was first received by Arnold Overoye, who agreed with White that Sinclair should be prosecuted. But when the report crossed Van De Kamp's desk, he told Overoye and his assistant to discard it trash it.

Van De Kamp then appointed Bruce Eckerson, the Mariposa County District Attorney, to take charge of the investigation and submit a new report. Coincidentally, Bruce Eckerson's disclosure statements on file at the Mariposa County Courthouse indicated that he owned stock in MCA Entertainment Corporation. White added that ALL of the crack M.A.I.T.S. team CHP officers involved in the original investigation either resigned or were transferred (or fired) afterward. The CHP Commander and the Deputy Commander who supervised the M.A.I.T.S. investigation also resigned as did Assistant U.S. Attorney White himself after the coverup took place.

However, White noted that before he resigned, he quietly filed with Stephan LaPalm of the U.S. Attorney's office in Sacramento the transcripts of the trial and an affidavit which listed the "hallucinatory" drugs Sinclair had used prior to the accident. I privately continued with the Queen's accident investigation, interviewing deputies Dave Beavers and Rod Cusic who had been privy to Sinclair's drugged condition on the day of the accident.

Beavers, who was the first deputy to arrive on the scene, maintained four years later, in 1987, that he was cognizant of Sinclair's condition, but when he was questioned by James White he was NOT ASKED about the drugs. (James White had by then been ordered to drop the criminal investigation and stay away from the drug aspect of the case).

In January 1988, deputy Rod Cusic strode into the offices of the Mariposa Guide, a competitor newspaper to the Mariposa Gazette, and stated that he was "told by Rod Sinclair to lie to a Grand Jury" about Sinclair's drug addiction and the resulting Queen's accident. Cusic added that he officially disclosed this to the Fresno FBI on April 26, 1984 and again on October 9, 1987. In 1987, Cusic also noted that he witnessed a boobytrapped incendiary device explode at Rod Sinclair's home during a visit to his residence. Additionally, earlier on, Sinclair allegedly barricaded himself inside his home and boobytrapped the property, as witnessed by numerous deputies who tried to persuade him to come out.

While reviewing old newspaper clippings from the Mariposa Gazette, I discovered an odd sidebar to the story. In December, 1984, during the Queen's accident civil trial in Fresno, U.S. Attorney James White had introduced testimony that Sinclair's vehicle contained "a myriad of automatic weapons including a boobytrapped bomb" when the collision occurred on March 5, 1983. It was not until 1991 that I discovered the depth of the coverup.

A CBS television executive and a Secret Service agent who had ridden in the third car of the Queen's motorcade in 1983, arrived in Mariposa to enlist my help in putting the pieces of the puzzle together on the Queen's accident. The Secret Service agent's best friend had been the driver of the car in which all three agents were killed. I signed a contract with the television executive for the sale of the story then drove them to the site of the accident, then to the site of where the damaged vehicle was stored near Lake McClure. The Secret Service agent broke down at the sight of the vehicle, remembering the gruesome appearance of his dead friend in the front seat. He turned, tears welling in his eyes, and said, "His heart burst right through his chest and was laying in his lap when I found him."

Dave Beavers joined us the next day. As did former sheriff Ken Mattheys. Beavers did not know that the same Secret Service agent whom he was sitting with in the car was the man who had tried to pull Sinclair out of the sheriff's vehicle on the day of the accident. There had been a scuffle, Beavers insisting that Sinclair go to the hospital with "his own people," and the Secret Service ultimately conceding. The Secret Service agent reflected sadly that they didn't know to ask the hospital for blood tests on Sinclair that day, didn't know of his drug addiction. By the time the case went to court, the records at the hospital were gone.

Two weeks after the agent left Mariposa, I received a packet containing copies of Sinclair's drug records for three years prior to the accident. They were the same records that U.S. District Court Judge Robert Coyle had disallowed in the Queen's accident trial. But it was not until producer Don Thrasher, a ten-year veteran of ABC News "20/20," came to town, that I learned of Sinclair's background, or the extent of his addiction.

By chance, at a book signing engagement at B. Dalton Bookstore, I had mentioned to the manager, Shaula Brent, that my next book contained information about the Queens accident. Surprised, Shaula blurted out that she had worked at Fremont Hospital when Sinclair was brought in from the accident. Shaula recounted the following: Rod Sinclair was brought into Fremont Hospital and placed in a room with an armed "FBI" agent outside the door. Sinclair had been receiving huge shots of Demerol in the arm every day prior to the accident, by order of Dr. Arthur Dahlem. Shaula noted that Sinclair was a big man and the amount of Demerol he had been receiving would have killed most men. After the Queen's accident, all drugs were withdrawn from Sinclair, and employees, including Shaula, could hear him raving aloud for days from his hospital room. The employees at the hospital were instructed not to speak about or repeat what took place at the hospital while Sinclair was there.

Because Shaula and her friend, Barbara Locke, who also worked at the hospital, were suspicious about Sinclair's hospital records, they secretly took photostats of the records "before they were destroyed by the hospital." Blood HAD been drawn on Sinclair on the day of the Queen's accident, and he HAD been under the influence, according to Shaula. Shaula gave the names of six nurses who were witness to Sinclair's condition at the time he was brought into Fremont Hospital. When his body was finally drug-free, Sinclair was transported, against his wishes, to Modesto Hospital.

******

In January, 1992, the final pieces to the puzzle fell into place. Sinclair's background had been the key all along. Producer Don Thrasher had interviewed the Secret Service agent and, although the information he obtained would not be used in his production, he advised me to follow up. The Secret Service corroborated the following profile: Sinclair's father had been a military attache to General Douglas MacArthur during World War II. (I had privately mused how many of MacArthur's men later became arms of the Octopus). In Japan, after the war, Colonel Sinclair (sr.) supervised the training of selected Japanese in intelligence gathering operations.

According to the Secret Service, he was an "international figure," highly regarded in the intelligence community. Rod Sinclair, Jr. attended school in Japan during this time. He later reportedly worked in the Army C.I.D. in a nonmilitary or civilian capacity, allegedly receiving training at Fort Liggett in San Luis Obispo, a training center for military intelligence operations.


Could it have been possible for Colonel Sinclair, Sr. to have called upon old friends in high places to rescue his son, Rod, from the Queen's accident investigation? Did the Octopus have enough power to alter an investigation of the death of three Secret Service agents? According to the Secret Service agent in Los Angeles, it did. And he intended to tell the story after he retired.
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