Yosemite Wilderness: Making backcountry experience legible for management and use

Authors: Jeffrey Jenkins*, University of California - Merced
Topics: Recreational and Sport Geography, Tourism Geography, Historical Geography
Keywords: wilderness, national park, Yosemite, legibility, visitor use management
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/9/2020
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Governors Square 10, Sheraton, Concourse Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Overnight backcountry trips in Yosemite Wilderness have sharply increased over the last decade due to factors such as the advent of social media and geospatial technology, the 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act and the National Park Centennial, and especially given the increasing popularity of the JMT-PCT. Despite the increase in visitation levels falling within permitted use limits, the patterns of use have led users to agglomerate around preferred locations and amenities, otherwise known as hotspots of overuse, thereby threatening wilderness dependent experiences like solitude. The original trailhead permit system was developed in the 1970s with 54 travel zones and Yosemite received official Wilderness status until 1984 with a Wilderness Management Plan (WMP) published in 1989. Much has changed in the intervening years with the levels, behaviors, and expectations of overnight users. Currently efforts are underway to reassess backcountry travel patterns and use levels that will ultimately inform an update to the WMP. This paper takes a critical look at the history, science and philosophy that have produced the phenomenon of backcountry overnight use in Yosemite, while not exceeding carrying capacity or leading to resource impairment, biophysically and experientially. This is thus the story of how a recreational resource came to be legible for managers to see and visitors to use.

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