After years of decline in visitation, /*Yosemite*/ National Park has had its first substantial increase in visitors since 1996.
"The long-term trend has been that visitation has been going down," said Ranger Kari Cobb. "This is one of the first substantial increases that we have had."
Buoyed by a weak dollar, foreign tourists are flocking to the park.
"There is a lot of Europeans and Asians. I think they are seeing it as an opportunity to come and see us," said Cobb.
What they're hoping to see is the postcard view of Yosemite Valley. Nearly 7,000 people a day visit the Wawona Tunnel View during the high season.
"This is where you need your picture taken if you come to Yosemite," said Kristie Kari with Yosemite Fund.
But all those people have taken their toll on the park's aging infrastructure. The Wawona Tunnel View is now the symbol of a massive infrastructure renovation happening in Yosemite. It was built in 1932 by the California Conservation Corps.
"This is the biggest project in all of the national parks right now," said Cobb.
Half of the nearly $3.5 million renovation project is being paid by the non-profit Yosemite Fund. Three trees have been chopped down since last June to open up the view. The rest of the project is being paid for by the National Park Centennial Initiative.
"For every dollar that is given by a Yosemite Fund donor, another dollar is given by the park," said Kari. "So it's really a great way to get more for your money."
"By the centennial money we have received, we can expand this and accommodate more visitors," said Cobb.
In fact, everywhere you look in Yosemite these days, there are signs of repairs. Roads throughout the park are being paved, drainage is being improved and curbs are being installed in some places to protect sensitive habitats.
"There are so many dirt pullouts and so many areas where there used to be some sort of green meadow and it's just crushed," said Cobb.
The massive undertaking marks the first significant infrastructure improvements in the park in nearly 50 years. Park supporters are looking forward to the completion of the Tunnel View. A place, they say, is the iconic image of the nation's greatest national park.
"We are nearly done. In three more months this project site will be completed and opened to the public," said Kari.
Yosemite has received nearly $2.5 million from the federal government to spruce up the park. With matching funds, they hope to double what they can get done.
For more informatio on Yosemite National Park, visit www.yosemitepark.com
Written and produced by Ken Miguel.