Merced River Trail
Imagined by its advocates as a multi-use trail through the Merced River corridor, the Merced River Trail will follow the historic Yosemite Valley Railroad grade on the northern banks of the river from UC-Merced to the railroad’s former terminus in El Portal. From there, the trail would leave the river banks and head towards Foresta until finally reaching Big Oak Flat in Yosemite National Park. When completed, the Merced River Trail would provide over 60 miles of trails facilitating enhanced hiking, biking, horseback riding, kayaking, rafting, and camping experiences within the Merced River corridor.
This project offers a wide array of benefits to Mariposa County residents. By expanding access to recreational opportunities throughout Mariposa County, the Merced River Trail will establish a unique and compelling resource to facilitate safe and convenient outdoor recreation experiences. Due to its active transportation and recreation functions, the Merced River Trail can improve area public health outcomes on issues like diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. Additionally, the trail improvements that this project implies would involve extensive ecological restoration activities, including erosion controls and invasive species removal. Coupled with the project’s light ecological footprint, these restoration activities benefit the community by preserving and emphasizing the Outstandingly Remarkable Values enshrined in the Merced River’s Wild and Scenic Plans. Finally, the proposed interpretive programming will serve to deepen and enrich residents’ connections to regional environmental and cultural history.
More broadly, by expanding access to the Merced River corridor, the project will facilitate community connections to and stewardship of a landscape that is typically experienced at high speeds in route to more recognizable destinations within the park’s boundaries. In addition to its proposed ecological and cultural interpretation programming, the trail will allow residents and visitors to experience the watershed’s unique and lightly trammeled ecology in more intimate and human-scaled ways, enhancing the relationships between trail users and the landscape.
Planning Process Overview
The county has empaneled an official advisory committee called the Merced River Trail Community Working Group (CWG) to facilitate the development of a comprehensive master plan for the Merced River Trail. You can learn more about the planning process and community engagement approach here. The CWG’s responsibilities include ensuring appropriate participation in the master plan development process, providing technical expertise in topic areas germane to the Merced River Trail Master Plan, supporting county staff in answering critical questions that arise in the plan development process, and providing periodic updates to the Board of Supervisors regarding the effort. You can learn more about the group and stay up to date with their meetings here. Be sure to select " Merced River Trail Community Working Group" from the drop down box under " Meeting Group".
RIVERS, TRAILS, AND CONSERVATION ASSISTANCE (RTCA) PROGRAM
In Summer 2018, Mariposa County applied for and ultimately was awarded participation in the National Parks Service’s Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance program, through which the county has been receiving technical assistance and project support from NPS planners based in the regional headquarters in San Francisco. Technical assistance focuses primarily on building consensus among the project’s federal partners, including the Bureau of Land Management, US Forest Service, and National Parks Service, all of which have jurisdiction over segments of the Merced River Trail. The presence of a recreation planner with knowledge of the differing protocols and perspectives of these federal agencies has been extremely beneficial to preliminary trail planning dialogues.