National Park Service To Change Muir Woods Visitor Policies

The National Park Service is accepting public comments until Friday on its plan to reduce congestion and improve public safety for visitors to the Muir Woods National Monument in Mill Valley.

The National Park Service's Muir Woods Parking Reservation and Shuttle System project proposes managing visits, especially at peak times, to Muir Woods by operating a year-round, online advance reservation system to increase safety, preserve natural resources and enhance visitor experience and public access. The reservation system would use the existing park and Marin County infrastructure. No new construction is planned, the NPS said on its website.

"The parking reservation and shuttle system has the greatest potential to reduce peak visitation while also protecting resources, improving the experience of visitors, and reducing traffic congestion," the NPS said. The NPS said the reservation system is not intended to increase visitation to Muir Woods. "This is not one of the goals of the project. Every option that the National Park Service is considering would reduce visitation during peak periods and maintain a quieter off-peak season." the NPS said. The NPS said the parking reservation and shuttle system would also reduce traffic congestion outside the park.

"Forecasts show that it would reduce Muir Woods-bound traffic through Tam Junction by 30-40 percent during peak season weekends," the NPS said. The plan also calls for installation of signs on approaches to Muir Woods, routine maintenance of road shoulders that are used for parking on Panoramic Highway and Muir Woods Road and installation of rustic fencing, bollards and other features. A plan for a parking lot and park-run shuttle stop on Panoramic Highway was eliminated because of community concerns. "The combination of these actions is expected to markedly reduce congestion, improve safety and the visitor experience, reduce vehicle-related noise in the entrance area, and reduce impacts to soils and vegetation that could improve water quality and habitat for sensitive species," the NPS said.

The reservation and shuttle system would be funded through a new parking service charge estimated at $10-$20 per vehicle. The reservation system could begin in 2015. The NPS said existing conditions are not sustainable, visitation must be managed, especially at peak times, and the ability to add parking near Muir Woods is limited. Ridership on one-way shuttle trips to Muir Woods was 77,486 in 2013, a 43 percent increase over 2012. Ridership was 37,239 in 2010. The shuttle bus operates on weekends and holidays between May and October. In a letter written this week by Marin County Supervisors Steve Kinsey and Kate Sears to Golden Gate National Recreation Area Superintendent Frank Dean, the Marin County Board of Supervisors said it supports the visitor reservations system to help reduce deterioration of Muir Woods' environmental quality while improving visitors' experience. The board, however asked NPS to include in its reservation system a cap on daily, weekly and annual visitation that does not increase overall annual visitation numbers. The board said the cap would reduce traffic impacts and make Muir Woods healthier. The board also asked the NPS to focus on expanding the Muir Woods Shuttle instead of starting an independent Park Service shuttle program.

"We believe the appropriate locations for collecting visitors should be closer to their trip origin, including bus stops in San Francisco, ferry landings and the current Muir Woods Shuttle staging area," the board wrote. The supervisors also supported reducing parking at Muir Woods and charging for parking there. "We have also heard that many of the private tour buses currently bringing visitors to the Woods are too large to safely traverse the winding roads leading to it," the board wrote. Speakers at the Jan. 7 board meeting urged the board to insist on having some local control over the parking and shuttle plans.

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