Perhaps no river crossing in Yosemite Valley has been more photographed than the historic Stoneman Bridge: a single, arching span faced with rough-hewn granite that provides a dramatic foreground to Half Dome, the park’s most iconic natural marvel.
Yet the 205-foot bridge is slated for possible removal under proposed plans for restoring the natural flow of the Merced River. As a federally designated “Wild and Scenic River,” some say its course should be shaped only by nature as it meanders through the valley — and bridge abutments alter that course.
The future of the roughly 80-year-old Stoneman and two other spandrel arch bridges has pitted environmentalists, who want the river to flow freely, against historic preservationists who say these early examples of the rustic park architectural style are too culturally important to destroy.
Called the “Voice of Yosemite” by famed naturalist John Muir, the Merced River flows for 81 miles in the park, from its source 13,000 feet high in the Sierra-Nevada wilderness to its 317-foot drop into the tourist mecca and through it.
For more than 15 years, the park has been pressured by the courts and environmental groups to write a plan balancing public access against the strict protections that come with the river’s 1987 federal wild and scenic designation. As the process winds down, options have included everything from limiting the number of daily park visitors, to slowing riverbank erosion by restricting access, to removing lodging and some camping areas in the valley and backcountry.
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