The National Park Service searches for public input

People can now make public comments on the National Park Service website as part of the visitor experience, access planning process

SEQUOIA AND KINGS CANYON NATIONAL PARK – A virtual trail was blazed as the National Park Service announced an online forum that will allow the public to help them improve developed areas for tourists.

The National Park Service (NPS) started a visitor experience and access planning process beginning Nov. 17. This process will allow the public to comment on a website forum to help identify key issues and ways the NPS can improve visitor experiences. This is the first of three phases in the visitor experience and access planning process.

“It’s wonderful that unprecedented numbers of people are coming out to enjoy their public lands, but it’s also important that we plan appropriately to accommodate that volume of people,” Superintendent Clay Jordan said in a statement.

The public feedback will allow for the NPS to improve developed areas of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. People are invited to participate in the planning process during the public comment period that extends through Jan. 17, 2023.

Visitors can partake in the public feedback period by visiting the NPS website, where they can post their opinions on certain park experiences. In user comments, the park is looking for specific questions addressed, such as:

  • What experiences in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are most important to you? 
  • What barriers get in the way of enjoying or visiting Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks? 
  • What is the park doing well to manage these issues that you would like to see continue?  
  • What can the park do to better address these barriers?

The NPS will also be hosting three online public meetings on the planning effort between December 2022 and January 2023. A virtual public meeting will be hosted on Monday, Dec. 12 at 4 p.m. PST, with a recording shared on the project webpage afterwards. Additionally, the NPS will host two in-person meetings: one on Thursday, Dec. 8 at 6 p.m. in Visalia, CA, and another on Wednesday, Jan. 11 at 6 p.m. in Three Rivers, CA.

Phase two of the planning process will take the public feedback from phase one and brainstorm potential solutions that they will present to the public. Phase three will be the developmental period for the solutions that the public helped come up with. This stage will not only take public comment into account, but also ensure their drafted solutions will be in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The NPS intends to finalize their improvement plans in this last phase, which will be accomplished by the winter of 2024.

This is one of many civic engagement opportunities that will be offered through the visitor experience and access planning process, and more public comment periods will be announced in the near future, according to the NPS press release.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks have experienced record-breaking levels of visitation over the last decade, and popular destinations in the parks can be challenging for visitors and staff to navigate, particularly during busy times, according to the NPS press release. This public comment period seeks to meet the changing needs of park visitors while sustainably addressing ongoing challenges attributed to high levels of visitation in the most popular areas of the parks.

“We are concerned about how increasing visitation can affect visitors’ access to and experiences within the parks, but it is critical that we understand the perspectives of those of you who visit, or used to visit, or hope to visit in the future,” Jordan stated.

Some of the largest issues surrounding visitation is traffic and parking congestion, lacking infrastructure that can keep up with the increased visitors, such as campgrounds and bathrooms, as well as increased visitation in winter time when roads are not plowed and popular tourist attractions, such as the General Sherman, are oftentimes snowed in.

The NPS reported 2 million park visitors in 2019, with 75% of visitors traveling to the parks between Memorial Day to Labor Day, which is approximately a 3.5 month time period.

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