After three long years and $20 million each from the National Park Service and Yosemite Conservancy donors, Mariposa Grove gloriously reopened to the public on June 15, 2018, offering views of some of the world’s largest and oldest living organisms.
Home to 500 mature giant sequoias, the Mariposa Grove restoration project focused its $40 million worth of efforts on putting emphasis on these ancient trees and improving visitor experience to the park.
The grand Grizzly Giant, one of Mariposa Grove’s oldest trees, is estimated to be around 1,800 years old and is a popular attraction among visitors to Yosemite National Park. This giant sequoia, among others like the Fallen Monarch in the lower grove, attracts visitors from all over the world and can be seen from the Grizzly Giant Loop and Mariposa Grove Trail. But of course, it’s all about perspective. These big trees are not as impressive from far away as they are in person; they are magnificent, and worth the hike to observe them in all of their glory.
Furthermore, the term “big trees” doesn’t even begin to do the sequoias in the grove justice. The sequoias can grow over 300 feet tall. While their height is exceptional, it is their impressive and unbelievable girth that sets sequoias apart from other trees in the world. Their trunks can reach 100 feet in circumference–the measurement around the full width of the trunk–and they can spread more than 20 feet in diameter–the distance from one edge of the trunk to the other if you were to draw a line straight across.
Although these trees were logged in the early 1870s, (one of the reasons John Muir fought so hard to protect the sequoia groves surrounding Yosemite National Park). Their lumber was very brittle and wasn’t as useful as other trees in the area. This, among preservation efforts from other organizations, fortunately helped protect these giants in following years from further destruction.
Sequoias continually grow unlike mammals. Their age, girth and height work in unison to keep these organisms resilient. To reproduce, each tree needs to produce a single maturing offspring over its lifespan of several thousand years for the species to persist. The giant sequoias in the area only reproduce by seeds which can remain in the cone for upwards of 20 years. Forest fires help open the cones, which then grow from the burnt, naked soil, helping the reproduction process.
These massive and ancient giant sequoias can be found in three groves in Yosemite National Park. The most easily accessible of these from the spring through fall is the Mariposa Grove near the park’s south entrance, where the restoration took place, off of Wawona Road (Highway 41), and two smaller groves, the Tuolumne Grove and Merced Groves near Crane Flat.
The Mariposa Grove restoration project dedicated time and effort to protect hundreds of local sequoias, supporting the lives of these spectacular trees in Yosemite National Park for generations to come.
It all began in 2014. While plans were in the works to restore Mariposa Grove, it wasn’t until the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the 1864 Yosemite Grant Act that the official groundbreaking in the grove took place.
On June 30, 2014, necessary repairs were administered to Wawona Point to create a safer and enjoyable visitor experience, including new stonework and plans to complete a new accessible trail connecting the Grizzly Giant and the California Tunnel Tree by 2015.
From here, pavement was removed from the roadways and parking lot in the lower grove area to improve the natural flow of water and help regenerate the giant sequoia habitat. An accessible loop trail was also installed in the lower grove area, which included the foundation of a boardwalk that would later help protect sensitive wetlands. This, coupled with the efforts from Youth in Yosemite, helped to eliminate social paths. Youth in Yosemite also collected plants for future ecological restoration efforts and built stone walls to delineate trails. By 2016, the sequoia habitat in the former lower grove parking area was restored and improved access for people of all abilities was added to the Grizzly Giant and California Tunnel Tree trails.
In 2017, the new arrival plaza was built at the south entrance to Mariposa Grove that included parking, shuttle access, hydration stations and even a Yosemite Conservancy bookstore. In the early months of 2018, final restoration work was finished in Mariposa Grove, complete with new visitor trails and in the upper grove area, pedestrian trails were converted from previously paved roadways for easy access and in an effort to preserve sensitive wetlands.
Yosemite’s Mariposa Grove restoration project brought the declining conditions of the grove to light, addressing the ecological health of the sequoias near the south entrance of Mariposa Grove Road, where trails, asphalt roads and buildings were negatively impacting and encroaching on the ancient and fragile roots of these awe-inspiring giants.
This national park idea, which turned into a harrowing and successful restoration project, brought fresh and nuturing energy back Mariposa Grove.
With sustainable trail surfaces, intricate webs of plants and animals, and beautifully flowing streams reviving a now healthy and flourishing ecosystem, this phenomenal and significant transformation will ensure that famous giants like the Bachelor & Three Graces, California Tunnel Tree, and of course, Fallen Monarch and Grizzly Giant, are now more protected than ever before.
While visitors to Mariposa Grove were important to Yosemite National Park, the health and wellness of the giant sequoias were what sparked the initial conversation and tireless work to get a restoration project off the ground to improve their habitat.
Mariposa Grove is the biggest sequoia grove in Yosemite and offers the best views of Wawona Point, hands down. Learn more about getting around Mariposa Grove here.
If you would like to learn more about the multi-year process that went into the final restoration plan, read the Mariposa Grove Restoration Project Final Environmental Impact Statement that was formalized in 2013.
After three long years and $20 million each from the National Park Service and Yosemite Conservancy donors, Mariposa Grove gloriously reopened to the public on June 15, 2018.
Legend has it that renowned Yosemite Ranger Carl Sharsmith was once asked by a visitor, “If you had only one day in Yosemite, what would you do?” The veteran ranger and Yosemite-lover looked solemn and replied “Madam, if I only had one day in Yosemite I’d sit by the Merced River and cry.”
After extensive restoration, the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias will reopen to Yosemite Visitors on June 15, 2018. The privilege to access this remarkable place will be regained along with the opportunity to enjoy all the improvements!