Paddlers officially have a new run to notch off their hit list in California, and it’s one of the most beautiful river stretches in the country. In mid-April, the Merced River in Yosemite National Park was officially reopened to paddlers…
According to American Whitewater, even though the new Wild and Scenic River Plan was finalized a year ago, the Park’s rules and regulations finally got updated, the culmination of seven years of engagement by American Whitewater with the National Park Service and other stakeholders. Allowing paddling was a tiny, yet important component of the grander plan to preserve the values of the Wild and Scenic Merced River.
With fifteen years invested into the process, the Merced River Management Plan is the most extensive plan of its type ever produced. The narrow geography of Yosemite Valley, combined with the quarter mile Wild and Scenic boundary that extends on either side of the Merced River, meant that this plan would regulate virtually all activities in the Valley.
American Whitewater supported this final plan when it was released. “We were pleased that this plan would open up previously closed sections of the Merced, but more importantly, this plan provided balance between a wide array of user groups and resource protection needs,” writes AW’s Megan Hooker. “The key success for paddlers, and one that American Whitewater fought hard to achieve, is that paddlers are treated on equal footing with other comparable uses.”
Early on in the process, AW coined the phrase, “A river is a trail and a boat is a backpack.” Viewing boating through this lens made it easier to describe river use in a way that was consistent with how the Park manages other trails, says Hooker.
On April 13, AW joined with Park Service staff to float the entire length of Yosemite Valley. The group included a range of paddling history from the area including Richard Montgomery (first to paddle the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne), long-standing ARTA nonprofit manager Steve Welch, lifetime river advocate Bob Center, AW California Stewardship Director Dave Steindorf, and Yosemite National Park Chief of Staff Mike Gauthier. “We want to embrace paddling, we want it to work, and we want it to be really successful,” Gauthier said. “That’s what this whole day is really about.”
The established put-in for the Valley float starts from Clark’s Bridge near the stables. Take out locations are at El Cap Meadow and just downstream of Pohono Bridge. A self-registration may be installed at the put-in, but for now, the park will be monitoring use to determine the need for a permit system in the future.
Specific information about this run, access points, river levels, etc. can be found on the American Whitewater river pages for these reaches.