Traffic fears at root of Muir Woods neighbors’ anger
As it turns out, having a national treasure for a neighbor can be a pain in the neck.
Residents who live near the famous Muir Woods National Monument are so angry about traffic on the narrow, winding roads in their neighborhood that they want the National Park Service to impose a limit on the number of visitors to the woods - and to promise never to build more parking lots or other developments in the area to accommodate larger crowds.
Top Park Service representatives insist that they have no plans for big parking lots near Muir Woods and have put their position in writing. But the neighbors simply don't believe them.
At issue are a couple of paragraphs in the government's lengthy general management plan for Muir Woods, released last month.
An earlier draft plan had included a large parking lot and staging area along the Panoramic Highway near Mill Valley.
Residents of the nearby area objected, and the parking lot was dropped. But the plan now includes a reference to "improvements east of the Panoramic Highway ... (which could) enhance trail and transit access to Muir Woods."
There were also mentions of “a small trailhead parking and picnic area" near Muir Beach, as well as "increased trail and transit access" to Muir Woods.
The neighbors see these seemingly minor details as a disguised plan to build big parking lots and inundate the area with cars and tour buses.
"This ... plan has a number of issues that will affect each and every one of us, including increased traffic, concession stands, transit centers for shuttle buses built on the mountain with bathrooms, lighting and pay stations and projects causing grave environmental concern," wrote Peter Hindley, president of the Muir Woods Park Community Association.
The larger issue, the community association says, "is the commercialization of Muir Woods."
The neighborhood group wants the Park Service to place a cap on the number of visitors allowed at Muir Woods, and it has support from residents of nearby Tamalpais Valley, Tennessee Valley and Muir Beach, all unincorporated areas near Muir Woods.
The residents suggest a limit of 750,000 annual visitors, 150,000 fewer than went to Muir Woods last year. Nearly a million tourists visited Muir Woods in 2013, almost all of them traveling by car.
Muir Woods National Monument, famous for its 1,000-year-old redwood trees, is actually quite small - only 554 acres, less than a square mile. Though the woods are less than 20 miles from the Golden Gate Bridge, only two country roads provide access.
At present there is so little parking near the entrance to Muir Woods that visitors park along the sides of winding, two-lane Frank Valley Road and walk along the shoulders to the entrance gate. Sometimes there are so many cars and so little parking that the walk can be a mile or more.
Shuttle buses from near Sausalito run only on weekends and only in peak seasons. On weekdays, there is no direct transit service to the forest.
Traffic has reached saturation levels, residents say. "It's worse than it ever was - far worse," said Nancy Gribler, who has lived on the Panoramic Highway near the border of Muir Woods for over 30 years.
The Park Service's solution is to provide more shuttle buses and some additional off-site parking, and that's what has stirred up the neighborhood.
The residents believe the Park Service's real intention is to build large parking lots and shuttle bus stops in the area.
Their anger boiled out at a community meeting at the neighborhood clubhouse overlooking Muir Woods recently.
Frank Dean, the general superintendent of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which administers Muir Woods, vigorously denied reports that the Park Service had big parking-lot plans.
"Visitation continues to grow" at Muir Woods, he said, "but we are trying to roll it back."
It was a hard sell. The standing-room-only crowd was skeptical. Members of the audience shook their heads in disbelief.
Dean and Howard Levitt, the recreation area's communications director, said several times that the park had no intention of building the big parking lots opposed by the neighbors, but the audience refused to believe them.
"There is a distinction between what they say and what they do," said Luke Teyssier of the Mount Tam Task Force, an umbrella group.
So far, opponents of the Park Service plans have enlisted the aid of Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, who has urged the Park Service to remove references to parking lots from the management plan, and Kathrin Sears, president of the Marin County Board of Supervisors, who expressed her "deep concern" over the mentions of parking and transit facilities on Panoramic Highway.
For its part, the Park Service is putting finishing touches on a transportation plan to Muir Woods from the north end of Sausalito. One of the proposals will be to set up a parking reservation system for Muir Woods and to beef up shuttle-bus service.