Tioga Pass to open within next few weeks

Despite rumors, unseasonable spring storms, more untimely cold temperatures and triple the normal amount of snow for this date, the road over Tioga Pass is still scheduled to open by the end of June.

“I can say with reasonable certainty that the pass will open within the next few weeks,” said Yosemite National Park Service spokesman Scott Gediman on Wednesday.

“We’re this close,:” said Mono County’s interim public works director, Jeff Walters. “We’re this close, but we’re not there yet.”

Although the park service has targeted the end of June for the past month, the last few weeks have been extremely cool and snowy, leaving many thinking the real date would be more like mid-July.

In fact, state department of water resource measurements put the Merced and Tuolumne river basins which drain the park at 316 percent of normal (for June 1) and 342 percent of normal, respectively.

But Gediman said that the park service and its plowing partners, including Mono County, Mammoth Mountain and Caltrans, have now “punched through” at least a single lane all the way from the park gate above Lee Vining to Crane Flat on the west side of the park, a distance of 48 miles.

“We are seeing about eight feet of snow at the most along the road,” he said, a far cry from the 15 feet of snow that was common there only a month ago. The park is now working on two main things: widening the road and the necessary turnouts for safety, and stabilizing avalanche-prone areas, such as the infamous Olmsted Point.

However, access to the park’s amenities, its stores, restaurants and other facilities along the road to Yosemite Valley will not be open that early, Gediman said.

“We simply don’t have a final date for when those facilities will open,” he said. “It depends on weather, on snowmelt.” Facilities like rest rooms cannot be opened when meadows and roads are flooded, due to concerns about sanitation and environmental damage, he said.

Trailheads, too, are on a delayed access schedule, with much of the Yosemite backcountry under more than five feet of snow anywhere above 10,000 feet.

But given that this is one of the biggest winters on record, with cold temperatures delaying the normal melt by almost two months, most Eastern Sierra residents are just happy the pass will open by July.

“They are doing a remarkable job up there,” said District 4 Supervisor Tim Hansen, whose North County district includes the communities of Lee Vining and north and will perhaps be the most impacted district in the county by the late opening of the road.

The fact that Mammoth Mountain Ski Area pitched in this year to help, donating some big machinery to speed up the plowing, didn’t hurt, he said.

Walters agreed.

“It drastically increased the amount of work done, having those two snowcats up there,” he said.

But there is no denying that the late opening of the road will still have negative impacts to the Eastside businesses that line the route to Yosemite, given that the road will open almost a month after its customary opening date.

It could have been worse – and has been. But increased cooperation among the park service, Mono County, Caltrans and now Mammoth Mountain, add up.

In fact, given the amount of snow still out there, the road will open roughly on par with other years with big snowfalls, even though May and June have been extremely cold and wet.

And it will open ahead of other years, such as the winter of 1998 where the snow pack was 20 percent less than this year, but the road didn’t open until July 1