What will the restored valley look like? Will it be wilderness? Will it be swamped with cars and visitors just like Yosemite?
A restored Hetch Hetchy almost certainly won’t look like Yosemite Valley. Yosemite was developed according to 19th and 20th century conceptions of public access to wilderness. Today, no-one wants to see lines of cars or hotels spread along a monumental valley within a National Park.
We need to develop a restoration plan that visitors throughout California, across America, and around the world can be proud of. We have the opportunity to create an experience of visiting Hetch Hetchy Valley that is even superior to a visit to present-day Yosemite Valley - one that protects its wilderness character while maximizing opportunities for access to visitors with any sense of adventure.
Responsibility for the design of recreational access to the restored Hetch Hetchy Valley will be up to the National Park Service, working with public input to implement current best ideals for sustainable, low-impact use.
We envisage access into the valley will be via shuttle bus or tramway, as is already practiced in other National Parks such as Zion. This no-charge public transport will lead from the park entrance station to the edge of the valley, bringing in visitors and all the gear we need to have fun - bicycles, kayaks, fishing rods, ice chests, backpacks, camping gear, etc.
There will be a system of paths laid out. Some will provide easy access to the river and points along the valley floor for day-hikers and families. Other trails will lead to more remote campsites up the valley or connect with the existing trail system in the rest of Yosemite National Park.
We’d like to see an unobtrusive visitor center, providing information and education on the history and ecology of the valley. There might also be a cultural contact area where the story of Native Americans living in the valley can be told.
Most of all, there will be lots of areas where visitors can - as John Muir wrote - stand waist-deep in grass and flowers. You will be able to gaze at the different characteristics of the three major waterfalls, and marvel at the native grasses and trees that will be growing again in the Valley.
You will be able to enjoy nine more miles of the Tuolumne River, now connecting the designated Wild and Scenic River below Hetch Hetchy Valley with the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne and its headwaters in Tuolumne Meadows.
During the initial years of restoration, visitors will be able to watch the process of regeneration in action. As David Brower said, people will be able to watch the emergence of “every new thing that grows, walks and flies” during this restoration. Think of bringing your children back every few years to watch Hetch Hetchy come back to life. Imagine telling your grandchildren you watched one of the world’s most spectacular mountain valleys come back to life - and telling them how you helped make that happen.
Today, Hetch Hetchy is the least visited area of Yosemite National Park. Compared to the 3.4 million visitors that Yosemite Valley attracts each year, only 50,000 people experience Hetch Hetchy. More people hike into the backcountry than visit Hetch Hetchy – mainly because the only permitted recreations are fishing from the reservoir shoreline and hiking a few trails high above the reservoir.
You and your family can help create a 21st century model for National Park usage that balances maximum environmental preservation with the greatest public access and recreation opportunities.