WASHINGTON — Yosemite National Park could secure the setting for a new visitors center, and a mining museum could gain a more prominent home, under a bill introduced this week to an uncertain future by a retiring lawmaker.
The bill written by Rep. George Radanovich, R-Mariposa, would authorize the federal government to acquire up to 18 acres near the junction of Highway 49 and Highway 140. The site in Radanovich's hometown could then be used for a new visitors center and office for Yosemite employees.
The site also could become the new home for the California State Mining and Mineral Museum, now housed about two miles away at the more remote Mariposa County Fairgrounds.
"A visitor center at this (new) location will not only provide Yosemite National Park with an opportunity to enhance their visitor services, it will be a tourist destination for travelers in the gateway community of Mariposa as well," Radanovich declared.
Radanovich calls Yosemite one of his top priorities, along with water, as his eight-term House career comes to a self-imposed end. Nonetheless, his legislative swan song could be a long shot, and some of its costs and consequences remain unclear.
Radanovich introduced the bill without any House co-sponsors. Because he's leaving office in January, he may be working with the diminished clout common among lame-duck lawmakers.
The bill itself doesn't yet have a price tag. Its passage would not guarantee funding for either a visitors center or the potential mining museum relocation. Instead, if the bill passes, Congress would still have to pass additional funding measures.
Eleven acres of the proposed site were bought by the non-profit Yosemite Fund in November, with the expectation that it eventually could be conveyed to the park service. Within the next week, the Yosemite Fund and the non-profit Yosemite Association are set to announce their consolidation into the new Yosemite Conservancy.
"I think there's a grand opportunity to put together a joint center that celebrates both Mariposa and Yosemite," Yosemite Fund president Mike Tollefson said Thursday.
Tollefson, a former Yosemite park superintendent, added that the non-profit group would await further park service study of the site. He said his expectation was that the non-profit group could end up selling, rather than donating, the land to the park service.
"We wholeheartedly support the project," Yosemite National Park spokesman Scott Gediman said.
Visitor centers themselves can span a wide range in size, cost and ambition.
One 2001 survey, by what's now called the Government Accountability Office, noted a new visitors center proposed for the Great Sand Dunes National Monument in Colorado would cost $838,000. At the Grand Canyon, a new visitor center was estimated to cost $27 million.
The larger the project, the greater the consequence of budget overruns. The 2001 survey pegged the cost of a new Gettysburg battlefield visitor center at $39 million. The Gettysburg center opened in April 2009 at a final cost of $103 million, with some of the cost paid for by a private foundation.
"We're looking at this as a public-private partnership," Gediman said of the proposed Yosemite center.