| The Beauty Amid Us |
It has oft been observed that we ignore or overlook the beauty in our own backyards. As a California native who has lately been spending much of my time overseas, I jumped at the offer to explore America’s crown jewels: Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. It turned out to an incredible journey. The awe-inspiring glory of California’s mountains and forests cannot easily be reduced to words on a page. As the saying goes, you had to be there…. And, every year, millions are. To gawk at Yosemite Valley’s El Capitan, to stare in silent wonder at the largest living organism on earth in nearby Sequoia. In these glorious wildernesses there roam bears who’ll rip the doors off of your SUV to snag a candy bar and there stand trees so wide they could fill an entire city street. From epic granite cliffs and ancient Native American ritual sites, to soaring falcons and tranquil lakes, these exemplars of America’s majesty leave us yearning for more. This yearning, I came to learn, leads to the lesser told “back story” of these beloved parks. I’m talking infrastructure, my friends. The ever-increasing number of visitors require lodging, restaurants, transportation—at levels not anticipated more than 120 years ago when Yosemite, for example, was created. Meeting this demand is a complicated, expensive and sensitive undertaking, requiring deep financial pockets and extensive management experience to navigate the precarious balance between tourism and conservation. Enter the private sector.
Back in 1993, Delaware North Corporation—a vast food service and hospitality management company—won the bid to operate hotels, restaurants and other related tourism concessions in Yosemite (and subsequently winning bids to handle concessions at Sequoia in 1998 and at Kings Canyon in 2013). As part of these deals, DNC provided millions of dollars to significantly upgrade the aging (and in some cases, decaying) infrastructure within these National Parks. From all accounts, it’s been an ideal model of public-private partnership, in harmony with National Park Service policy that their “concessions” operators “demonstrate sound environmental management and stewardship.” Progressive food sourcing is a linchpin of GreenPath, DNC’s sustainability initiative throughout park restaurants, including the Wuksachi Lodge in Sequoia, the Tenaya Lodge on the edge of Yosemite and the elegant Ahwahnee Hotel in the heart of the Yosemite Valley. At The Peaks Restaurant at Wuksachi Lodge, Chef Jeff Graham highlights local and organic ingredients with uber-conscious dietary options tailored to vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free diners. Up at the Yosemite Lodge, at the Falls Restaurant, California artisan food icons like Cowgirl Creamery and Lundberg Family Farms are featured suppliers. Paleo dieters, fear not, because humanely produced poultry and beef, as well as sustainably-harvested seafood, are also showcased. No matter how fine the dining, or lovely the accommodations, the greatest pleasure of my re-immersion into the splendors of my own country was to begin reacquainting myself with our incomparable national treasures. My next trip will be a back-country adventure, just me and my camping gear, with no other humans to distract me from simply being in one of the world’s most awe-inspiring, unspoiled natural wonders.—Michael Straus, Senior Editor
Photo: Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park, courtesy of yosemite.com