Marin wants the feds to keep Muir Woods tourists at bay.
Acting amid community alarm over plans by the National Park Service to accommodate visitors, county officials are seeking a cap on attendance at Muir Woods along with a study of how many tourists the locale can handle.
The Board of Supervisors dispatched a letter to Frank Dean, superintendent of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, saying that while federal goals to improve management of Muir Woods are worthwhile, "equal effort to reduce impacts on Southern Marin residents and businesses" must be made.
The letter, drafted by supervisors Kate Sears and Steve Kinsey following a community uproar over a proposal for a 180-car parking lot and a new shuttle service along Panoramic Highway, lauded federal officials for shelving the controversial plan, but said more must be done.
"We ask that you incorporate a cap on daily, weekly and annual visitation" into a visitor reservation system being developed that "does not, overall, increase annual visitation numbers."
Nearly 1 million visitors troop into Muir Woods each year -- including as many as a record 6,000 that packed the park last July 5 -- jamming area traffic and stomping the environment. Park service plans could boost visitation 50 percent or more, community groups including the Mount Tam Task Force say.
"Many in our community believe an independent science-based analysis of the carrying capacity of Muir Woods should be undertaken to ensure that whatever levels of visitation are set will be sustainable over time," according to the supervisors. "We encourage you to focus your access strategy on expanded transit services, utilizing an expansion of the Muir Woods Shuttle"....We also support reduction of parking at Muir Woods and charging for parking there."
As for tour buses that imperil safety on the area's winding roads, "we stand ready to help you in any legal means available to limit and control larger buses coming to Muir Woods."
In conclusion, "we share the recognition that long-term interests of this unique natural resource require a reduction in the number of visitors and a shift away from dependence upon auto access to a significantly greater utilization of bus transit," the supervisors said.
The board approved the letter with minor revision after a parade of area residents urged a crackdown on attendance, citing safety, environment and quality of life issues.
"Any plan that does not address over-attendance first and foremost is a nonstarter," declared Luke Teyssier of Tamalpais Valley, urging the county board to retain local control of the situation.
Sharon Rushton, head of Sustainable Tam Almonte, said the park service must be compelled to "lower the annual visitation" at Muir Woods. Another speaker warned of traffic safety hazards posed by sightseers jamming the region. A representative of Sausalito's Floating Homes Association said federal officials appeared unconcerned with county needs.
In this IJ archive photo, a family hoists their child as they leave their car for the hike toward the entrance of Muir Woods National Monument on Muir
In this IJ archive photo, a family hoists their child as they leave their car for the hike toward the entrance of Muir Woods National Monument on Muir Woods Road near Mill Valley, Calif. They had to park almost a mile away due to lack of parking spaces. (Frankie Frost/Marin Independent Journal) Frankie Frost
"We do have a working relationship," Kinsey noted of the county and park service. "There is nothing in this letter that doesn't retain local control."
Sears joined Kinsey in backing use of existing transit, and in calling the reservation system a smart way to manage attendance by "trying to spread the visitation throughout the week."
As it stands, getting to the park can be an ordeal on warm weekends, and parking is hard to find. Motorists often end up parking on shoulders outside the main lot along Muir Woods Road, posing a safety hazard and threatening the health of the Redwood Creek watershed.
The park service, in trying to curb impacts, came up with a plan to run a shuttle between a new parking lot on Panoramic Highway, near the Dias Ridge trailhead, but the idea was tabled after residents rebelled.
Park officials could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but Howard Levitt, spokesman for the recreation area, said the other day that officials have "no desire to kick up visitation to Muir Woods as some people are suggesting is our goal."
As a national treasure, "it's important people come and visit Muir Woods, but we are concerned about doing that with as little impact as possible," according to Levitt.