Last summer, the Fresno Bee published an editorial opinion on our behalf titled “The Elephant in Yosemite Park”.
Conservationists, elected officials, and government representatives were on hand to celebrate Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the Yosemite grant 150 years ago by removing concrete from the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias. Officials spoke glowingly of restoration and improvements to Yosemite for future generations, but made no mention of the loss the park suffered when Hetch Hetchy Valley was clear-cut, dammed and flooded in the early 20th century.
Well, the proverbial elephant is back in the room. Or perhaps it’s never left.
National parks across the country are gearing up to celebrate the centennial of the National Park Service in 2016. In honor of this anniversary, Yosemite has designated 10 signature projects designed to enhance the visitor experience. It is not surprising that none of these projects involve the Hetch Hetchy area as it is the least visited portion of Yosemite.
But it is disappointing that the National Park Service fails to acknowledge the role of Hetch Hetchy in its very creation. After all, the bitter nationwide battle over the Raker Act in 1913 led to the passage of National Park Service Act three years later - assuring that no destruction like the damming of Hetch Hetchy Valley would take place ever again in any of America’s national parks.
It is an awkward situation for National Park Service officials. They do understand the importance of Hetch Hetchy's legacy. After all, three former Yosemite Superintendents serve on Restore Hetch Hetchy's Advisory Committee. Strict guidelines do prohibit existing officials from expressing personal points of view on proposals to restore Hetch Hetchy, but does that mean the National Park Service cannot acknowledge Hetch Hetchy's role in its creation? Failure to do so is to ignore history.
Not to be outdone, next month UC Berkeley will host a conference title “America's Best Idea: the next 100 Years. The two day summit will feature a plethora of distinguished speakers from academia and the conservation community, including a keynote address by renowned biologist E. O. Wilson
The UC Berkeley College of Natural Resources website for the summit proudly points out that the university hosted a conference 100 years ago that provided "major inspiration" for the creation of the National Park Service. Again, the website includes no mention of the seminal role that the damming of Yosemite's Hetch Hetchy Valley played in the creation of the National Park Service and there is no indication it will be included in any of the conference presentations or discussions.
Far too often, the Hetch Hetchy story is swept under the rug. For too many it is a painful memory and perhaps it detracts from hopeful conversations about the future. It would be perilous for the conference’s participants to ignore Spanish philosopher George Santayana’s prophetic words:
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it
Restore Hetch Hetchy is of course not content for people simply to remember Hetch Hetchy and learn from the experience of allowing a principal piece of Yosemite National Park to be destroyed. We are are dedicated to Hetch Hetchy's restoration - and to making Yosemite and our national park system whole once again.
It is disappointing to see the Hetch Hetchy story ignored by so many. But this willful ignorance simply makes us at Restore Hetch Hetchy more determined than ever to return Hetch Hetchy Valley to Yosemite and all people.
Don't forget about Restore Hetch Hetchy's annual dinner on April 25, 2015, in Berkeley.