2024 Spring/Summer Magazine – Yosemite Conservancy

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volume 15 issue 01 Spring Summer 2024

Into the Wilderness

AS SUMMER APPROACHES, there are so many things I’m looking forward to: warmer weather, the return of peak-hours reservations for day-use visitors at Yosemite National Park, and a new chapter. I’ll be preparing for retirement and transitioning to a somewhat quieter time in life — more relaxing days; traveling with my wife, Diane; and hitting the John Muir Trail again.

The work of Yosemite Conservancy spans all aspects of the park. And during my decade of service at the Conservancy, I’m honored to have joined donors in restoring the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias; opening the updated Bridalveil Fall viewing areas and the new Yosemite Valley Welcome Center; and most recently, transforming the former Valley Visitor Center into a reimagined Yosemite Exploration Center, complete with interactive exhibits, and staffed by volunteers, docents, and naturalists. Learn more about this inspiring project on p. 10.

I am equally proud of the work the Conservancy has done and continues to do to maintain our many acres of federally protected wilderness. As important now as it was when it was passed 60 years ago, the Wilderness Act of 1964 continues to shape the land here. Fittingly, we’ve devoted much of this issue to wilderness. You can learn about the impact of the act on Yosemite today, how our park experts and others hold themselves and their work to the highest standards of protection and conservation, and the impact this place and many of our programs have on people of all ages.

It has been an honor for me to serve with Yosemite Conservancy. Getting to know our donors, visitors, and staff; exploring our common interests in Yosemite; and working together to preserve the park for the future have been the most fulfilling parts of this job. Thank you for allowing me to serve as a steward of Yosemite National Park. I look forward to watching the Conservancy grow and evolve, and continuing to support you all.

COVER Dawn's pastel palette over the Clark Range in Yosemite's High Country.


Empowering Curiosity in Yosemite Now

With a new name and an innovative inaugural exhibit, the Yosemite Exploration Center reopens to anchor Yosemite Village. PAGE 10

Entwined With Nature

If you’ve fully immersed yourself in Yosemite, you may have been forest bathing without even knowing it. PAGE 14

The Wisdom of the Wilderness Act

The revolutionary 1964 Wilderness Act is still making a difference for everyone who spends time in or cares about Yosemite. PAGE 4

Core Competencies

Wilderness Education and Outreach Coordinator Lissie Kretsch holds the Yosemite Wilderness firmly in her heart. PAGE 8

WildLink, Past and Future

The program celebrates a quartercentury as an agent of change, introducing a diverse population of youth to the park. PAGE 16

Love Letters to Yosemite

From falling fire to hungry bears, Conservancy donors share stories of why they are inspired to give back to the park they love. PAGE 18

Science in the Wild

Exploring better research methods allows wilderness and scientists to peacefully coexist in ways that benefit both. PAGE 20

Meet the Team: Frank Dean

As Frank Dean readies for retirement from the Conservancy, he reflects on 40 years of service to natural places — which he began as a Yosemite park ranger. PAGE 22

Experience Half the Park After Dark

Yosemite is a sanctuary for those wanting to witness the cosmic wilderness of the unspoiled night sky. PAGE 24

Junior Rangers

Ready to explore the wonders of the night sky? Go outside, and look up! PAGE 28

Through Your Lens

Park fans share their photos of Yosemite. PAGE 30

OUR MISSION Yosemite Conservancy inspires people to support projects and programs that preserve Yosemite and enrich the visitor experience for all.

volume 15 issue 01 Spring Summer 2024 Contents

the wisdom of the



Ensuring humility, restraint, and character 60 years after “revolutionary” legislation

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spring morning in the Yosemite Wilderness may seem intensely quiet, the hush broken only by the unzipping of your tent. But then, your ears tune to the frequency of songbirds, distant water, and creaking branches. The surroundings come into focus: granite, pines, jagged peaks. Maybe you notice traces of life passing through — a gnawed seed cone, a print in soft soil.

That’s one scene of so many in the vast Yosemite Wilderness: It comprises 704,028 acres (1,100 square miles), covering nearly 95% of the national park — from remote alpine lakes to the Valley’s cliffs.

The Yosemite Wilderness is protected not only as part of the national park, but also through the 1964 Wilderness Act, which established the National Wilderness Preservation System and directs federal agencies to manage designated areas in a way that preserves “wilderness character.”

Mark Fincher grew deeply familiar with the Wilderness Act during a decades-long


career in Yosemite — first as a ranger and later as wilderness specialist. He notes that the Wilderness Society’s Howard Zahniser, who spearheaded the act’s legislative push, was motivated not only by the threats of burgeoning outdoor tourism, development, and resource extraction posed to natural areas, but also by the 1945 atomic bomb.

“He thought humanity had gotten too big for its britches,” Fincher says. “He thought, ‘We need to get some humility as a species. The solution is wilderness.’”

Zahniser’s quest to pass the act took dozens of drafts, 18 hearings over more than eight years, and plenty of compromise. The hard-fought result was groundbreaking.

“The Wilderness Act is heretical; it is an astonishing piece of legislation,” Fincher says, because of its emphasis on resisting the impulse to exert dominance over nature. “It wasn’t about recreation. It wasn’t about science. It wasn’t about conservation. All those things are great, and those are some of the benefits of wilderness. But the most important thing for Zahniser, what he called the ‘distinctive ministration’ of wilderness, is the ability of wilderness to elicit humility, to make us realize that we’re just fellow neighbors in an ecosystem, all dependent on the sun for our continued existence.”

For those tasked with interpreting and applying the Wilderness Act every day — including Elissa “Lissie” Kretsch, Yosemite’s wilderness education and outreach coordinator, and Isabella Hall, a member of Yosemite Conservancy’s Wilderness Reservations Team — one of the most important words isn’t in the act’s text: restraint.

“I view the Wilderness Act as a revolutionary piece of legislation, because it demonstrates the need for collective restraint … for ‘the permanent good of the whole people,’” Hall says.

That restraint is essential to protecting wilderness as untrammeled — not untrampled (a common misnomer) or untouched, Kretsch explains, but rather as places where we “allow natural conditions to flow.”

Defining wilderness as a place that stands out because of how we interact with it can be hard to grasp. Ultimately, Fincher says, the Wilderness Act isn’t about a place, in geographic terms; it’s about a relationship grounded in humility and restraint, in respecting nature’s wisdom. Like any relationship, it’s complicated, and it takes work.

In Yosemite, the work of managing and supporting a relationship with wilderness that aligns with the Wilderness

Act and respects Indigenous stewardship is an enormous undertaking, led by Kretsch and her wilderness-focused peers but involving every employee — and ultimately, everyone who spends time in or cares about the park.

Hal Cranston’s love affair with the Yosemite Wilderness predates the Wilderness Act, but in his decades of hiking and backpacking in the park, he’s witnessed the act’s influence and the impact of donors’ support. Cranston’s backcountry experiences have inspired him to give back to the park as a donor and member of Yosemite Conservancy’s Council, and he often uses his time on the trail to encourage others to do the same.

Cranston talks about Yosemite mountains — Lyell, Maclure, Florence — as if they were old friends with whom he has shared hardships, adventures, and a sense of simplicity that draws him back again and again. Etched into his memory are days spent in a snow cave near Donahue Pass playing Hearts and waiting out avalanches, a near-fatal ice-climb on Mt. Conness, and watching a bear in Pate Valley deftly knock down his carefully hung bag of food (in

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Defining “Wilderness Character”

The Wilderness Act did not define “wilderness character.” An interagency team later did, as blending intangible qualities — such as how wilderness makes us feel — and tangible ones: Areas should be untrammeled, natural, and undeveloped; offer “outstanding opportunities for solitude or primitive and unconfined recreation”; and may have other unique ecological, cultural, or geological features.

pre-canister days). Those moments of unpredictability are part of what pulls him back.

“That’s the excitement of being in wilderness,” he says.

In the past 60 years, the National Wilderness Preservation System has grown from 9.1 million acres to nearly 112 million. That may sound huge, but designated wilderness accounts for only 5% of the U.S., with nearly half of that in Alaska. It’s rare — and, as Kretsch says, “rare things take work to protect.”

The act’s emphasis on embracing restraint and thinking beyond our current moment seems particularly salient in a world that is rapidly losing species and smashing heat records. In just a few decades of high country treks, Cranston has seen Yosemite’s glaciers shrink to static snowfields. Donor-funded research is documenting shifts in songbird and butterfly populations. Kretsch and her team are wrestling with how to approach restoration in wilderness, which is meant to reverse impacts of modern human activity, in the context of human-caused climate change.

“The Wilderness Act is more relevant today than it was 60 years ago,” Fincher says. “But its relevancy depends on people understanding it.”

Even in a turbulent time, the Wilderness Act holds steady as a framework for considering our connection with the land and fellow living things, for pausing before we act — and when we do act, to do so with humility, and with an appreciation of millennia of evolution, natural processes, and Indigenous stewardship. The idea that we can choose restraint and respect, for the good of our ecological neighborhood, is as powerful today as it was in 1964.

TOP: A volunteer fishes at Elizabeth Lake on a day off during a Yosemite Conservancy Work Week in Tuolumne Meadows.
BOTTOM: Hal Cranston takes his four grandkids up the Mist Trail for their first time.


Wilderness Education and Outreach Coordinator Lissie Kretsch thrives in the park

s Yosemite’s wilderness education and outreach coordinator, Elissa “Lissie” Kretsch spends a lot of time thinking about how to help people learn about, appreciate, and experience wilderness.

Given that almost anywhere you go in the park, you’re encountering the Yosemite Wilderness, that’s a big job.

“Wilderness is for everyone,” Kretsch says. “Everybody interacts with wilderness in Yosemite — whether you are a backpacker, a photographer, an angler. … If you come to the park for a picnic and look up in wonder, you are looking at wilderness.”

Kretsch traces her wilderness-loving roots to her childhood in Connecticut, where she had plenty of nature-based adventures, from exploring the wilder corners of her backyard to taking summer trips to national parks. After studying environmental policy in college, she headed to California for a summer gig as an outdoor educator in Yosemite.

That three-month job turned into 19 years — and counting — of working in the park. After starting out as an instructor with the Yosemite Institute (now NatureBridge), Kretsch joined Yosemite Conservancy’s Wilderness Permit Team, and in 2010,

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LISSIE KRETSCH and her toddler, Micah Rill, on skis.

she put on the National Park Service uniform.

Kretsch’s job is focused on the Yosemite Wilderness, but during the workweek, you’re more likely to find her in the office than on a trail. She’s often meeting with colleagues.

“Because more than 90% of Yosemite is wilderness, a lot of people’s jobs overlap with mine,” she says, adding that she works closely with peers across disciplines, including resource management, trails, fire, and interpretation. “I thrive as a collaborator, and wilderness requires that.”

While office work is a big part of the job, Kretsch gets outside to experience the landscape, connect with visitors, and bring her perspective and expertise to planning and projects in the field. She also coordinates Yosemite’s annual snow surveys. For Kretsch, the surveys are a reminder of why the Yosemite Wilderness matters outside its official boundary — snowmelt from Yosemite’s high country feeds reservoirs and farms, with ripple effects far beyond California — and a chance to get to quiet parts of the park, “where it’s just you and maybe some otter tracks in the snow.”

Kretsch relishes personal wilderness outings, too. She got to take her dad on his first backpacking trip when he was in his 70s. To celebrate her 35th birthday, she hiked to 35 lakes that were new to her.

“For me, it’s never been about getting to the farthest or

highest place,” she says. “Going out and finding newness is the thing.”

Her newest adventure: taking her toddler backpacking. That off-the-clock time reinforces Kretsch’s connection to the place she works to protect.

“I love my personal relationship to wilderness,” she says. “And I love the opportunity to keep growing other people’s relationships to it.”

In addition to conducting wilderness patrols, Kretsch’s team oversees the park’s wilderness permit system, working with the Conservancy to issue more than 50,000 permits each year and ensure backpackers are set up for safe trips. She teaches colleagues and visitors about wilderness, and she particularly loves working with the WildLink program for high schoolers.

Another highlight: She recently worked with the Conservancy to revamp the Yosemite Valley Wilderness Center. At the redesigned, donor-funded center, which reopened in 2021, backpackers can pick up permits, check conditions, and talk to rangers; and anyone who wanders in with a question or two can learn about ways to connect with wilderness safely and sustainably in the park.

Today, after nearly two decades in the park, Kretsch says the Yosemite Wilderness has etched itself firmly into her heart: “It’s not just a job. It’s deeply part of my core.”

Experience Yosemite with an Expert Guide

From naturalist-led hikes* and guided stargazing programs to instructor-led art retreats and nature journaling, Yosemite Conservancy’s expert guides and teachers will help you experience Yosemite in a new way.

Our Outdoor Adventures offer something for everyone — from in-depth botany, birding, and cultural history hikes to family-friendly walks, multi-day backpacking trips, and everything in between.

Every booking with Yosemite Conservancy helps preserve the natural beauty of the park.

*Some programs include park entry/day-use reservations

Learn more at yosemite.org/adventures



CHILD explores the new Yosemite Now exhibit. PHOTO: © JULIA HEJL.

Empowering Curiosity in …

Yosemite Valley Visitor Center gets a new name and exhibit

hat’s happening in Yosemite today is directly related to what happened in Yosemite yesterday. And what will happen tomorrow depends on today. This premise is brought to life in “Yosemite Now,” the new donor-supported exhibit at the Yosemite Exploration Center.

With the opening of the Yosemite Valley Welcome Center in fall 2023, the opportunity arose to reimagine the former Valley Visitor Center into the new and aptly named Yosemite Exploration Center. This reinvigorated space — which reopened in winter 2023 and is now hosted by Conservancy staff — anchors the broader Yosemite Village area, which also houses the Yosemite Museum and the Yosemite Theater.

In addition to familiar installations that highlight the natural and cultural history of the park, visitors will find the all-ages “Yosemite Now” exhibit in the space where the ranger information desk once stood.

"Yosemite Now” showcases conservation science in the park using interactive components, and visitors are encouraged to indulge their curiosity as they explore the space. A wall of curios and curiosities displays tools used in conservation, ranging from vintage to modern. Within the exhibit, visitors will encounter 48 drawers full of conservation science–oriented objects.

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YOSEMITE NOW'S bright and interactive elements foster curiosity and encourage playful hands-on exploration. PHOTOS: © YOSEMITE CONSERVANCY/BLAKE JOHNSTON.
“The idea of being curious is woven throughout the exhibit.”

Have you seen what device scientists use to test water and determine which creature's DNA is present? How about an up-close look at the bones in a bear's paw? Many of the drawers have QR codes, which can be scanned for additional information about what’s tucked inside.

The renovated lobby space and new exhibit also gave the Conservancy a chance to integrate interpretive retail products throughout the exhibit, providing opportunities for visitors to continue their engagement beyond the physical space.

“This is the first time we have worked with the National Park Service to design a space that is meant to educate and engage, as well as highlight the Conservancy's interpretive retail products, which helps raise money to continue funding park projects,” says Adonia Ripple, the Conservancy’s chief of Yosemite operations.

“Yosemite Now” tells conservation stories within quadrants representing towering trees, courageous creatures, wild waters, and magnificent meadows. It also tells the stories of the people of Yosemite through the ages.

“We want to help people from all backgrounds see themselves in the stories and, especially, the science and conservation of Yosemite,” Ripple says. “There are highlights of the diverse faces, both past and present, that have safeguarded Yosemite. Using a special visual treatment called a lenticular, visitors can literally look to the past to understand the present, just by shifting their gaze.”

Everything in the exhibit is designed to spur and reward curiosity, inviting visitors deeper into their scientific exploration. Large wheels illustrate the relation of cyclic and seasonal natural phenomena to climate, plants, and animals. While a visitor may be present in the park at just one moment in time, rotating these wheels shows them what happens with meadows, trees, creatures, and water during other times of the year when they may not be there to witness it.

Also featured are two projecting microscopes through which visitors are encouraged to zoom in on the details of objects and hone their observation skills. They might see the lacy edge of a butterfly’s wing or examine the contents of soil.

“The idea of being curious is woven throughout the exhibit,” Ripple says. “And that curiosity can lead visitors deeper into understanding and connecting with the park and the natural world.”

The “Yosemite Now” retail products are sustainably sourced from organic and renewable materials, and they support local makers from just outside the park. The graphics on these items are representative of the artwork throughout the exhibit space. Check out the new collection in our online store or during your next visit to the park.

entwined with 14 | Spring Summer 2024

magine a tranquil afternoon in Yosemite. Imagine yourself slowly exploring this slice of paradise, using your senses to fully experience where you are. You feel the texture of the air, the sunlight on your face. What do you hear? Birdsong? The river or waterfall? The music of wind through nearby trees? Perhaps you gaze into the serene stillness of a vast basin or over the tranquility of a shimmering meadow. Your fingertips trace the bark of a large pine tree, and you notice the intricate “puzzle piece” designs; you marvel over the colorful lichens living there.

You are forest bathing!

Forest bathing is a nature-appreciation approach that melds mindfulness and nature immersion. It is a process of slowing down and paying close attention to our immediate surroundings. We mindfully explore using all our senses.

The practice has origins in 1980s Japan, where it was developed as an antidote for an overly stressed population. The Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries coined the term shinrin-yoku, which roughly translates as immersive bathing in the environment of the forest.

Forest bathing has been shown to reduce anxiety and depression, lower blood pressure and cortisol levels, and enhance cognitive function and feelings of connection and harmony. Further, antimicrobial compounds emitted by trees improve our own immune system — think of the invigorating smell of a mature conifer forest! Breathing in these organic compounds stimulates white blood cell and NK (natural killer) cell production, which helps fight off infections and disease.

In “Mountain Thoughts,” John Muir wrote: “The sun shines not on us, but in us. The rivers flow not past, but through us, thrilling, tingling, vibrating every fiber and cell of the substance of our bodies, making them glide and sing. The trees wave, and the flowers bloom in our bodies as well as our souls …”

This is the essence of forest bathing: becoming fully entwined with nature, rather than simply observing it as a detached spectator.

Only very recently in human history have we lived so separately from what has been referred to as the “morethan-human world,” resulting in a perceived disconnection from nature. In fact, we are fully natural beings, brought not into the world, but from it. We are to the earth as a wave is to the ocean, as a leaf is to a tree. Time spent

outdoors heals the scars of separateness. We may feel joy in our connection, gratitude for the gifts of nature, and ultimately, a desire for reciprocity.

In her powerful book, Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer writes that reciprocity imbues us with the desire “... to take care of the land as if our lives, both material and spiritual, depended on it.”

Imagine an antidote for our busy lives, full of schedules, appointments, stress, to-do lists. Forest bathing invites us to come out and play, to be curious, to engage in a deeper relationship with the land we already know and love; to fully immerse and be whole.


The Conservancy can help you become more fully entwined with nature. Summer forest art walks, forest bathing programs, and other expert-led Outdoor Adventures provide varied opportunities for you to immerse yourself in the park. (Donors even get a discount!)

Scan the code for dates — and a special guided meditation to connect to the forest right now.


Wildlink, Past and Future

ow a thriving partnership among the National Park Service (NPS), Yosemite Conservancy, and NatureBridge, WildLink began in 1999 with the goal of expanding access to and opportunity in our public lands.

WildLink welcomes high school students from communities that historically have experienced systemic barriers to accessing the outdoors. It invites them to explore Yosemite Wilderness and career opportunities offered there through immersive wilderness expeditions, community stewardship projects, family weekends, and alumni summer internships in the park. Thanks to Conservancy donors, more than 2,000 students have participated in more than 200 WildLink expeditions during the past 24 years, spending more than 800 nights in wilderness.

Why wilderness? Wild places provide a place for students and teachers to reflect, to disconnect from everyday life, to be challenged, to feel connected to nature, and to be safe, inspired, and renewed. In Yosemite, we are able to consider our place in the wilderness — while growing as leaders, stewards, and friends.

WildLink focuses on access, exposure, equity, diversity, and inclusion. The program fosters experiences that help participants develop a relationship with wilderness that reflects personal experience, identity, and culture. This can help support lasting connections and ensures wilderness

truly is, as stated in the Wilderness Act, “… for the permanent good of the whole people.”

With Wilderness rangers and NatureBridge educators side by side with students, participants reflect and engage in historical and cultural connections and representation, challenges, and values — inviting long-term relationshipbuilding with wilderness. The experiences of backpacking to remote lakes or feeling humbled under grand night skies strengthens students’ understanding of the wider natural world, and how wilderness could relate to experiences back home and to their lives in Stockton, Turlock, Modesto, and other California towns and cities. Community stewardship projects cement and validate the experience by sharing it with communities in collaborative reflection. Past projects have seen participants organize community willow tree planting initiatives at local nature reserves, river cleanup and camping trips where they teach their community Leave No Trace

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ethics, and student-to-student mentoring programs where WildLink alumni help guide the next wave of participants.

Together, WildLink alums and staff are working to create a pipeline where the untapped potential of communities with barriers to the outdoors can shine through, and the next generation of wilderness ambassadors can develop and hone their skills.

As WildLink rebuilds in-person programming postCOVID, it has an added goal of focusing on more local communities and creating deeper, more sustainable relationships. Staff are reconnecting with groups that participated in the past, forming new connections, and putting on a full year of programming in 2024. They’re working to ensure WildLink remains an agent of powerful positive change, forges strong connections with our local communities, and introduces a diverse population of youth to the wonders and opportunities of Yosemite National Park.

“I have supported WildLink for several years now. It reminds me of all the wonderful years I was blessed to have visited Yosemite in my youth. I am so happy the teens of today have the opportunity to experience Yosemite through WildLink groups. What a great program.”
TOP: Wilderness ranger Andrés Escalante and Wildlink participant James Gonzalez clear trail debris in the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias during a 2019 restoration project. BOTTOM: WildLink students gather around the campfire, savoring community and sweet treats.


Conservancy donors share stories of why they are inspired to give back to the park they love

A State of Mind

“I have owned property in Foresta since 1974 and have been coming to the park since 1972. I raised my family spending weeks at a time in our Foresta cabin and hiking many of the trails. We knew [park historian] Shirley Sargent well, as she was our neighbor. We used to hike to her ranch, where she would serve us iced tea and regale us with Yosemite stories. She gave us a copy of each of her many books to be kept in our cabin. We lost everything in the Arch Rock fire. We rebuilt. Now my son and grandkids are spending lots of time up there. Our property in Foresta will remain in the family in perpetuity. Foresta and Yosemite are a state of mind, which will enrich my family down through the future generations.”

Falling Fire and Joy

“When I was very young, my parents would take us camping at Bass Lake. We would have dinner at the cafeteria at Camp Curry and settle in for the rangers’ show. We’d wait for dark to hear them shout, ‘Let the fire fall!’ We would watch with wonder at that sight. I have been back many times in the years since, and it is still my favorite place. My mom told me her grandmother said, ‘You need to see Yosemite with someone you love.’ It is very true. I have been many times with family, and it brings great joy.”

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DONOR STORIES —TOM MERICLE Leadership Donor and Legacy Society Member —SUSAN BROGDON Sequoia Society Member PHOTOS: (LEFT) © DAVID GRIMES. (TOP) © ANN & ROB SIMPSON. (HISTORIC FIREFALL POSTCARD) © COURTESY OF YOSEMITE MUSEUM. Scan the code to read more stories or submit your own

Sounds and Smells and Bears

“I was 18 in 1976, and my first backpacking trip was to the upper country in Yosemite with two girlfriends. We set up camp and hung anything and everything a bear would be attracted to on a rope high up between two trees for the night. A couple had moved into the camping site next to us, and one of my friends mentioned they did not hang their food. I remember we joked about it and then moved on with our day.

Sometime in the early hours, we were awakened by very loud snorting noises and realized a bear was sniffing around our tent. I will never forget the smell, and the next sounds we heard are forever etched in my memories. The couple had left cans of beans and tuna outside their tent, and that bear was eating all of it. Morning came, and we saw the aftermath of the horrendous sounds coming from too close to us. Those cans were no match for that bear’s claws and teeth.

Just before we were to head out for a hike after breakfast, a ranger showed up to our neighbors’ site. Within a half-hour, he had them packed up and escorted them down to the Valley. They were in trouble.

On our hike that afternoon, we saw a mama bear and her cub, and we thought maybe she was the bear that had visited us. The rest of that trip was uneventful, thank goodness. Yosemite was so breathtakingly beautiful; I will never forget the sights, the sounds, or the smells of that first backpacking adventure.”

New Knees for Yosemite

“The first time I ever went to Yosemite was as a little girl sometime in the late ’70s. It was love at first sight and sound and smell and touch. Heaven! In the ’90s, my friends and I decided we wanted to hike Half Dome together. We stayed at a friend’s parent’s house near Yosemite, got on the road in the morning while it was still dark, drove to Yosemite, parked, made it up Half Dome and back down, then drove back to the house. All in one day! It was rough, and we loved it so much that we did the same trip a couple of years later. Those trips were when I left a part of my soul in Yosemite. Eventually, I moved to Europe, and I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to move back to the U.S. During those years, I was homesick for Yosemite and backpacking through the Sierra. About three years ago, I moved back to California and have been to Yosemite three times: twice by myself staying at Housekeeping Camp, including once for a Yosemite Conservancy Outdoor Adventure, and once with friends visiting from Hungary, when we stayed in Curry Village, and I showed them around the park.

During a trip in 2022, I was barely able to walk the Loop Trail or up to Vernal Fall footbridge and back due to severe issues with my knees. This inspired me to get both of my knees replaced, because I just can’t imagine being unable to hike Yosemite. I can’t wait to be back home, hiking in Yosemite again!”


Science in theWild


YOSEMITE GEOLOGIST Greg Stock maps the perimeter of Maclure Glacier (on Mount Maclure) during a survey in September 2018. PHOTO: © COURTESY OF NPS/NIKITA AVDIEVITCH.

cientists ask lots of questions. And wilderness areas contain plenty of answers. This equation offers an inherent synergy, especially since wilderness provides scientists with a natural baseline to compare with areas affected by human use.

“There’s a lot of overlap between wilderness and science,” says Greg Stock, a Yosemite National Park geologist. “And a lot of good work can happen in that overlap.”

It may sound like a match made in heaven, but science and wilderness don’t always coexist peacefully.

“Early geologists working in Yosemite were, by and large, using wilderness-friendly strategies for their science,” Stock says. “But that was really by default — they didn’t have the option of using helicopters and power drills.”

Stock is the geology subject-matter expert on Yosemite’s research permit committee, which reviews permit requests from outside scientists wanting to conduct research in Yosemite National Park. He regularly works with geologists as they develop research proposals. These processes are filled with opportunities for education and awareness, as permit-seekers are sometimes unaware of the protections codified in the Wilderness Act of 1964.

The Wilderness Act and its associated policies require a Minimum Requirements Analysis if a requested course of action for research conflicts with the act, such as using motorized or mechanized equipment or installing scientific instrumentation. The analysis gives scientists an opportunity to reflect on their research question and the scope of study — and consider alternatives.

“Scientists can benefit from taking the time to go through a Minimum Requirements Analysis,” Stock says. “It helps them think carefully about the question they’re trying to answer. How does the project relate to wilderness and, maybe more importantly, what is the benefit to wilderness?”

A group of geologists hoping to obtain samples from a remote location could fly in with a helicopter and use a power drill to achieve their goal. In fact, that’s the way it’s commonly done in many parts of the world, Stock points out. But if scientists are forced to do the analysis and consider the concept of wilderness, they’re likely to think more carefully about minimally invasive ways to accomplish their research objectives.

Could the same rock sample be sourced, instead,

from an already-developed area, such as a road cut? Could they hike to the location and use hand tools? There are also ancillary benefits of a wilderness-mindful approach, including insights gained through the immersive experience of trekking to sites, the lack of sound disturbance to other wilderness users, and the reduced carbon footprint of a simpler study design.

To be clear, there are times when proposals complete a Minimum Requirements Analysis, conclude that certain equipment, such as a helicopter, is necessary to accomplish a goal, and are approved, because the research goal is consistent with wilderness values.

Conservancy donor–funded work with Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep, an icon of Sierra Nevada alpine wilderness, is a good example. Helicopters have been used in the relocation of sheep to re-establish herds. There is a balancing act in wilderness management that requires dialogue and understanding of how wilderness benefits from science as much as science benefits from wilderness.

Anyone who has ever been to Yosemite knows that taking the time to step back and consider the nature around you is a perfect first step before embarking on any activity. For scientists working in the wilderness, it’s an ideal place to start a meaningful coexistence.

PARK GEOLOGIST Greg Stock on a climbing patrol in July 2015 to assess rockfall damage. PHOTO: © COURTESY OF NPS/ERIC BISSELL.

TOP: On June 14, 2018, Yosemite Conservancy and the National Park Service celebrated the restoration of Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias at a special dedication ceremony. Frank Dean and Michael Reynolds cut the ceremonial ribbon.

BOTTOM: Frank Dean, park ranger at Yosemite National Park in 1993.



FRANK DEAN began his career as a park ranger in Yosemite, Sequoia, and Grand Canyon national parks. Some 40 years later, he is retiring from his role as president and CEO of the Yosemite Conservancy later this year. Dean joined the Conservancy in 2015 following nearly six years as superintendent of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, as well as stints as superintendent of Saratoga National Historical Park and assistant superintendent at Point Reyes National Seashore.

At the Conservancy, he has overseen the completion of myriad noteworthy projects to benefit Yosemite National Park, including the $20 million fundraising campaign to restore the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias and the addition of Ackerson Meadow — a 400-acre parcel that’s the site of the largest wetland restoration project in Yosemite history — to the park.

Steve Ciesinski, chair of the Conservancy’s board of trustees, calls Dean “a trailblazer in national parks conservation and a true visionary.”

As he wraps up his tenure with the Conservancy, we sat down with Dean to get his unique perspective from so many years tending to the parks he loves.

22 | Spring Summer 2024
“A trailblazer in national parks conservation and a true visionary.”

My first job as a park ranger informed my job as president and CEO of Yosemite Conservancy in this way:

As a ranger, I became very familiar with Yosemite and how it operates as a national park. Knowing the park and the challenges helped me hit the ground running when I joined the Conservancy later in my career.

My favorite memory of leisure time in Yosemite is:

Living in the park as a ranger. It enabled us to go skate-skiing on Glacier Point Road or do ambitious day hikes and return each evening for dinner in our home in the park. It was magical.

My favorite place to visit in Yosemite is:

The Cathedral Range in the Tuolumne Meadows area. It is so iconic and beautiful.

My proudest accomplishment as president and CEO of Yosemite Conservancy was:

Restoring the hydrology and tranquility to the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias ... saving and restoring Ackerson Meadow ... growing the commitment from donors in supporting our work ... the growth of our free, guided programs. It's hard to choose just one!

The thing that surprised me most during my tenure was:

The emergence of 21st century challenges, such as constraints placed on our partners in the National Park Service that make it more difficult for them to operate. Increased park visitation and flat budgets mean the Conservancy has had to help Yosemite in new ways. It has been fulfilling to see how donors step up to support Yosemite with some of these issues in addition to our traditional grants.

People are most surprised to find out:

As a young search and rescue ranger, I once boasted, “I will never be rescued.” Well, that turned out not to be the case. My skiing buddy took a picture as the helicopter arrived near Ostrander Lake and added my quote below the image of me with a broken ankle. It was a good lesson in humility that I retained as I moved into park management.

What most inspires me:

Any time I am in Yosemite, it is inspiring and special. That feeling then carries over into whatever Conservancy task is at hand. Securing a significant gift from a generous donor for Yosemite and resolving a project delay are gratifying, as they will help preserve the park or make it a better experience for the visitors.

The biggest challenges facing the park in the next decade are:

Traffic congestion, staff housing, and climate change. Yosemite Conservancy is already assisting with these issues, including research and prescribed fire in the giant sequoia groves. With our donors’ support, we can make a difference with these challenges.

I will stay connected to Yosemite after my retirement by:

Staying up to date on the issues and visiting Yosemite regularly to have fun! I serve on another nonprofit board that focuses on national parks, and I plan to help as I can. As I look around my house, there are Yosemite images and paintings in every room; Yosemite is so special to us all! As my retirement nears, I have become more reflective on how fortunate Yosemite is to have the Conservancy. I want to thank our generous supporters, our board and council leadership, the many dedicated volunteers, and our talented staff for making our partnership for Yosemite so successful.

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MILKY WAY visible over Evelyn Lake in Yosemite's high country. PHOTO: © RJ FRANKLIN.


Exploring the dark skies that cradle our cosmic wilderness

ollowing the signing into law of the Wilderness Act of 1964 by Lyndon B. Johnson, close to 95% of Yosemite National Park was designated as wilderness. This federal protection encompassed majestic cliffs, sequoia groves, and waterfalls within its boundary.

It also helped preserve the wilderness that stretches infinitely overhead.

Yosemite welcomes visitors each year to explore not only the wilderness on the ground but also to journey through the vast expanse of the cosmic wilderness in the sky above.

People have been fascinated with the night sky since the beginning of time. My own fascination with the stars was sparked during a childhood trip to Devils Canyon in Utah. It was there, under the spectacle of the Perseid meteor shower, that my passion for astronomy was kindled. For me, this experience underscored the importance of public lands in protecting the dark skies that cradle our cosmic wilderness.

In an age where artificial light covers 75% of the American skies, Yosemite acts as a sanctuary for those yearning to witness the night sky in its unspoiled glory.

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LIGHT POLLUTION in cities and towns obscures views like this one from Yosemite's backcountry, where the Milky Way shines above Mount Lyell. PHOTO: © RJ FRANKLIN.

The National Park Service (NPS) is committed to protecting a night sky that is relatively free of artificial light and preserving the dark sky. To support this mission, the NPS Night Skies Team has been pivotal in establishing a method to quantify and track changes in night sky brightness. Since 2001, they have conducted systematic assessments of night sky quality in about 100 parks, revealing that almost all parks are affected by some level of light pollution. This initiative underscores the NPS’ commitment to dark sky conservation. Likewise, the Conservancy is committed to providing programming to bridge the gap between Earth and sky. Throughout the summer months, Conservancy naturalists offer regular stargazing opportunities in the form of one- and two-hour night sky programs and overnight adventures.

The cosmic wilderness is something special to experience in Yosemite. One of the best parts is that you take it home with you. Whether you are on a Conservancy program or out on your own, we invite you to explore not just the physical landscapes of Yosemite but also the celestial wonders that are overhead. The preservation of this cosmic wilderness is a testament to our commitment to the natural world, ensuring future generations can look up and find, amid the stars, a little piece of home, or maybe a little piece of wonder, or maybe even new wilderness to explore. No matter where you are, this wilderness is just outside, waiting to be seen.


Experience the magic of Yosemite’s dark skies on a guided stargazing program with our naturalists. Two-hour “Explore the Night Sky” programs topics include star science, constellations, planetary science, light speed, meteors, meteorites, and mythology rooted in cultures both locally and around the world.

FEE: $25/person (Free for children under 5) Scan to


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at yosemite.org/stargazing

Cosmic Wilderness

National parks not only protect the land below but also the sky above. Yosemite has some impressively dark night skies, and even at home, you can explore the wilderness of space. Areas with lots of lights still offer a view of our cosmic wilderness, and the best part about this wilderness is all you have to do to experience it is to go outside and look up. With billions of stars above our heads, there’s always something to explore.

Big Dipper to Big Toes

Official Yosemite Junior Ranger products at shop.yosemite.org can


Use the back two stars of the Big Dipper’s cup to point your way to Deneb, the brightest star of the constellation Cygnus the Swan.

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Use the front two stars of the Big Dipper's cup to point your way to Polaris, the North Star, and the final star in the Little Dipper's handle.



Use the back two stars of the Big Dipper’s cup to point down through the cup to Regulus, part of one of the largest constellations, Leo.

Major your cosmic compass

Ursa Major, the great bear, has within it the Big Dipper, which is a great “trailhead” to the cosmic wilderness.

Stay Curious!

Since the beginning of humanity, we have rooted our stories in the stars. Kings and queens, dragons and rivers, lions and swans: Cultures from around the globe have interpreted the constellations through time to mean different things. What do you see in the stars? Draw or write a story inspired by the stars in the box below.


Arcing from the handle of the dipper will lead you to Arcturus. Arcturus is part of Boötes. Not booties, but Boötes, which is Greek for herdsman.



Park fans share their photos of Yosemite.


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© BRAILEY LISATH. @yosemiteconservancy @yosemiteconservancy @yoseconservancy
Cinnamon Bear, Crane Flat MIKE REEVES. Afternoon Sublimity
BRYSON PATTERSON. Lupines in Meadow
Red Peak Pass
of the park,
your own,
on social media: A D B C A C B D
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Steve Ciesinski*


Dana Dornsife*


Robyn Miller*


Jewell Engstrom*


Frank Dean*


Hollis & Matt* Adams

Gretchen Augustyn

David & Amelia Cameron

Jessica* & Darwin Chen

Diane & Steve* Ciesinski

Kira & Craig Cooper

Hal Cranston & Vicki Baker

John & Meredith Cranston

Carol* & Manny Diaz

Leslie & John Dorman

Dana* & Dave* Dornsife

Jewell* & Bob Engstrom

Kathy Fairbanks

Sandra & Bernard Fischbach

Cynthia & Bill Floyd

Bonnie Gregory

Rusty Gregory

Laura Hattendorf & Andy Kau

Christy & Chuck Holloway

Christina Hurn

Mitsu Iwasaki

Erin & Jeff Lager

Bob & Melody Lind

Patsy & Tim Marshall

Kirsten & Dan Miks

Robyn* & Joe Miller

Juan Sánchez Muñoz* & Zenaida Aguirre-Muñoz

Kate & Ryan* Myers

Daniel Paramés

Sharon & Phil* Pillsbury

Gisele & Lawson* Rankin

Bill Reller

Pam & Rod* Rempt

Skip Rhodes

Alain Rodriguez* & Blerina Aliaj

Dave Rossetti* & Jan Avent*

Greg Stanger*

Ann* & George Sundby

Alexis & Assad Waathiq

Clifford J. Walker

Wally Wallner & Jill Appenzeller

Helen & Scott* Witter

*Indicates Board of Trustees


Superintendent Cicely Muldoon

Ways to Give

There are many ways you and your organization can support the meaningful work of Yosemite Conservancy. We look forward to exploring these philanthropic opportunities with you.


Marion Ingersoll mingersoll@yosemite.org 415-362-1464


Caitlin Allard callard@yosemite.org 415-989-2848


Julia Hejl jhejl@yosemite.org 323-217-4780

PLANNED GIVING & BEQUESTS Catelyn Spencer cspencer@yosemite.org 415-891-1039

Contact Us

VISIT yosemite.org

EMAIL info@yosemite.org


ANNUAL, HONOR, & MEMORIAL GIVING Isabelle Luebbers iluebbers@yosemite.org 415-891-2216

MONTHLY GIVING Cailan Ackerman sequoia@yosemite.org 415-966-5252

GIFTS OF STOCK Eryn Roberts stock@yosemite.org 415-891-1383

FOUNDATIONS & CORPORATIONS Laurie Peterson lpeterson@yosemite.org 415-906-1016


415-434-1782 MAIL

Yosemite Conservancy 101 Montgomery Street, Suite 2450 San Francisco, CA 94104

Magazine of Yosemite Conservancy, published twice a year.


Lauren Hauptman


Eric Ball Design


Lou Zabala

Spring Summer 2024 Volume 15 Issue 01 ©2024 Federal Tax Identification No. 94-3058041


Frank Dean, President & CEO

Kevin Gay, Chief Financial Officer

Marion Ingersoll, Chief Development Officer

Kimiko Martinez, Chief Marketing & Communications Officer

Adonia Ripple, Chief of Yosemite Operations

Schuyler Greenleaf, Chief of Projects

For a full list of staff, visit yosemite.org/staff

For a full list of our 2024 grants, visit yosemite.org/impact


Yosemite Conservancy

101 Montgomery Street, Suite 2450

San Francisco, CA 94104

LEGACY GIFTS for Yosemite Conservancy are a powerful way to help protect the future of a beloved national park.

Including Yosemite Conservancy as a charitable beneficiary in your will, trust, or retirement account helps to ensure lasting funding for important scientific research, enriching educational programs, and vital work to protect the habitats of native plants and animals. Your gift can sustain Yosemite into its next century, promising that the park will provide a sense of wonder and a place of learning for future generations.

To learn more about a legacy gift for Yosemite, please contact Catelyn Spencer at cspencer@yosemite.org or 415.891.1039.


Follow the Conservancy on social media to stay in touch on the go:
A GIFT FOR Yosemite’s Future
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