Towards the end of my trip, I shadowed a group of 6th grade students participating in NatureBridge, a residential outdoor science program in Yosemite for middle school students. The students toured Yosemite Valley, performed bug surveys in Tenaya Creek, and had lunch under tall pine trees while I trailed behind. Eventually, we meandered towards a beach along the Merced River.
The NatureBridge educator led a program in which the students created their own “national parks” using natural items like twigs, rocks and leaves. The instructor split the class into three groups and each assigned group to create a “national park” based on one of the following themes: preservation, recreation or education. The groups presented their “parks,” explaining how it encompassed their chosen theme. The instructor posed the question, “Which theme fits Yosemite?” to which the students responded, “education.” These students recognized that Yosemite provides the amenities necessary for millions of annual visitors to enjoy the park, while striving to protect the natural features that draw so many visitors in the first place.
As I sat back observing the students discuss how Yosemite is an education park, it struck me: I had participated in this activity before. Only last time, I had been sitting amid the audience of eager NatureBridge students.
For me, viewing Yosemite as anything other than untrammeled wilderness was an uncomfortable realization at first. But through my research, I found that Wild and Scenic designation of the Merced River and the subsequent Merced River Plan presented a different lens. If not for the roads by which I could access Yosemite, I would not have attended NatureBridge in 6th grade and I would not have become the environmental steward I am today.