Frank knows better than most the inner workings of that federal bureaucracy (and says “bureaucracy” without the intensely negative connotation that sometimes accompanies the word). Before becoming President and CEO of Yosemite Conservancy, he served as the superintendent at Golden Gate National Recreation Area for six years. Prior to that, he served in a variety of roles at Saratoga National Historical Park and Point Reyes National Seashore, and was a park ranger in Sequoia and Grand Canyon National Park.
Frank’s career in the National Park Service also included a post in Yosemite; the start of his self-described “full-circle” journey in the park. He served as a park ranger in Yosemite for eight years, with a six-year stint as the park’s primary liaison with Yosemite Conservancy.
“The park has changed a lot since the late 80s,” he says. “When I was there at the time, there were only three people in the resource management division: a wildlife biologist, the chief, and the poor guy who had to stay up all night to work on bear stuff. Now there are more than 200 people in the division.”
Yosemite’s growth has led to a better park experience and to more professionally managed conservation efforts, but it is also one of the biggest challenges the Conservancy faces. From 2008 to 2019, the park’s visitorship increased by 29%, or 1 million visitors. On average, 75% of guests visit during the busiest six months of the year (May to October), creating a high potential for gridlock and congestion. Despite the total number of visitors in 2020 dropping significantly due to COVID-19 and the new reservation-only system designed to mitigate overcrowding during the pandemic, expectations are that the park will be busier than ever in the near future. This means projects and improvements that focus on accessibility, traffic patterns, pathways and services will need even more attention.
One of those accessibility projects that Yosemite Conservancy is taking up this summer is Spanish-speaking outreach, as many of the people turned away at Yosemite’s entry points this past year were Spanish speakers who’d never heard about the new reservation system.
“We’re working with a firm to get the word out on Univision, Spanish-speaking radio, social media and other places. There’s even a Spanish-language guide to getting around the Recreation.gov website,” says Frank.
As more people visit, the more focus must also be placed on the restoration of Yosemite’s natural resources, the conservation of its lands and protection of its wildlife. Without proper caretaking of its most treasured habitats and vistas, the park wouldn’t have any need for the improved infrastructure and traffic-easing. It’s a delicate balance, and one that can be difficult for fundraisers.
“Those well-known places...fundraising to restore them is easier; it’s something we can help with...the wastewater plant in El Portal, maybe not,” Frank laughs. “But we are putting in some restrooms in the new Bridalveil restoration [which will reopen late 2022], so when it’s packaged up with an iconic place’s restoration, we can do bathrooms, too.”