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Buses could run from Manteca to Yosemite

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POSTED July 4, 2013 1:10 a.m.

What comes first — the restrooms or the Yosemite Area Rapid Transit Service (YARTS) buses?

Until the Manteca City Council gets a firm answer to that question in the form of a Manteca/Yosemite Visitors Center up and running they intend to keep the Manteca Visits Center contract with the city to a 12-month deal. The city provides the non-profit 20 percent of the annual hotel room occupancy tax receipts in order to promote tourism. City Manager Karen McLaughlin had proposed providing the Manteca Visitors Bureau with an 18-month contract to provide funding certainty for staffing for an expanded visitors center.

The council, though, took a more cautious approach after a report from city economic development specialist Don Smail indicated that Poag & McEwen — the owners of The Promenade Shops at Orchard Valley — were waiting for the Yosemite Visitors Center being solidified before investing in restrooms, At the same time, Smail and the Visitors Center staff are negotiating with transit services to make a Yosemite Visitors Center a reality but need restrooms in place to seal the deal.

Smail as well as Visitors Center Chief Executive Officer Juliene Flanders expressed confidence the visitors’ center plans would proceed.

Besides working with other communities and transit firms, they have a working understanding with National Park Service representatives to plug into a Manteca center.

It would involve the visitors’ center spending $40,000 to secure YARTS bus service on Saturdays and Sundays that would depart Manteca at 7 a.m. and return at 4 p.m. Such service would run from Memorial Day to Labor Day. They would secure wrap-around advertising for the 55-passenger buses to cover the tab so the money generated in the initial year from tickets sale could be used to further market the service.

Service could be extended on Sunday back to the BART station in Pleasanton. That way tourists could use public transit to go from San Francisco to Yosemite Valley.

The goal is to have the visitors’ center up and running in time for Yosemite’s 150th anniversary in May 2014.

The non-profit Yosemite Conservancy is planning on having a gift shop at the Yosemite Visitors Center. Those traveling to Yosemite will be able to buy entrance passes in Manteca. That means they can guarantee entrance into the park on days when vehicle count exceeds allowable limits.

That’s because a pass sold in Manteca will count toward the vehicle census.

There is also a possibility that camping permits and permits to hike Half Dome — if they are available — could be secured in Manteca as well.

The restroom facility is an essential component as it is needed to serve not only motorists who come by car  who may either catch YARTS buses or continue on in their own vehicle, but also a long-range plan to snag the Yosemite-bound tourist buses out of San Francisco.

Besides having a ranger on site who would help orientate tourists to Yosemite and answer their questions, the goal is to make the  new center the “go to place” for tourism whether it is north, south, east or west of Manteca. The Manteca organization, for example, is already working with a number of organizations such as the Lodi Wine Country group that see benefits from making Manteca a hub for regional tourism.

Goal is to limit Yosemite vehicle traffic

The impetus for the move is a plan moving forward to reduce vehicle traffic and parking in the national park that has more than 4 million visitors a year. Park officials were scouting for an area where there could stage tourists. There was no place close to Yosemite that was available and any project to create parking on that scale would impact the environment.

Manteca was seen by park leaders as an ideal location as it was on the way to the Sierra but before Highway 99. That could allow the visitors’ center in Manteca to direct tourists to Kings Canyon and Sequoia national parks on days that Yosemite is full while securing a spot for them the next available day to visit Yosemite.

Meanwhile, Manteca would benefit from more overnight room stays and associated tourist spending.

The park superintendents like the fact that Manteca has tied up the 1,922 parking spaces at Orchard Valley for the next 30 years through a lease arrangement that assures adequate parking for a park and ride operation.

Poag & McEwen have said they like the idea of a Yosemite Visitors Center as it fits in with their strategy of securing more outlets to play off the pull of Bass Pro Shops being a destination shopping experience.

The large LED message board sign that will be placed along the 120 Bypass at Orchard Valley will have aggressive marketing for the Yosemite Visitors Center.

While the southern entrance is the heaviest traveled due to tourists from Southern California, the Highway 120 corridor brings in the bulk of tourists from foreign countries and other states since they come through San Francisco first.

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