Yosemite National Park's favorite beach is getting a face lift.
Tenaya Lake, the sparkling alpine oasis along the park's busy Tioga Road, is being upgraded this summer with new parking and picnicking facilities. The trail system is being rerouted to avoid harm to the shore's delicate wetlands.
The renovations are intended to undo decades of neglect to basic services, repairing parking lots and restrooms, and also to ease damage done by the free-range trampling by families trekking to the lake to swim and paddle in the summer and ice skate in the winter.
A portion of the new East Beach trail will include a boardwalk that guides hikers over the wetlands rather than through them and for the first time will provide easy access to the beach for visitors in wheelchairs and families with strollers.
The $1.7-million project is underwritten by the Yosemite Conservancy and expected to be completed by the end of summer.
Conservancy President Mike Tollefson, a former Yosemite superintendent, said the renovations have been much needed, especially because they add to the handful of sites in the 1,200 square-mile park that are handicapped accessible.
"When the Yosemite Falls trail was opened, a man in a wheelchair came up to me and said that it was the first time in 15 years he was able to get to the falls by himself," Tollefson said. "I still get goose bumps thinking about it.
"At Tenaya Lake, we were out there last year with donors, explaining the projects. An older woman with a cane got the idea of what we were talking about and came up and said, 'I hope you are going to make it easier to get to the beach.' It's an important aspect of this project."
It's a significant accommodation: National parks can be daunting for visitors with limited mobility, even though federal law requires park managers to make reasonable efforts to provide handicapped access. Projects like this one, and the revamping of the Lower Yosemite Falls trail in 2005, make popular park attractions more accessible by bringing them up to the standards of the Americans With Disabilities Act.
Tenaya Lake, at 8,100 feet, is on Tioga Road, the main thoroughfare for visitors to get to Tuolumne Meadows and Yosemite's high country. Even though officials say the lake is one of the park's most popular attractions, little has been done to improve or maintain the site.
Because there have been no signs or guidance for visitors about where to park and how to reach the beach, Tenaya Lake can be a free-for-all on busy summer weekends.
Even park officials admit to being embarrassed about the state of disrepair.
"You pull into the parking lot, it's crumbling granite, you've got a smelly restroom, and you don't know how to get to the lake," said Yosemite spokesman Scott Gediman. "Through heavy use, thousands and thousands of people have been trampling the wetlands to access the lake, through no fault of their own. We will now provide trails and signs and a better sense of arrival.
"We can't say we are improving Tenaya Lake, but we are trying to protect the resource and improve the visitor experience," Gediman said.
The work will restore the wetlands system through removal of the old trails and the planting of native vegetation. The new East Beach trail will connect to the loop trail system. Restroom and picnicking areas around the lake will be upgraded.
Construction will require some road detours, but park officials say the entire lake will be accessible during the project.