SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - The National Park Service has "embarked on a reckless venture to transform Muir Woods [National Monument] into an amusement park," a citizens' group claims in court.
The Mount Tam Task Force sued the Department of the Interior and the National Park Service on July 31 in Federal Court.
Muir Woods National Monument, 12 miles north of San Francisco in Marin County, was created in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt to preserve the coastal redwood tree. Redwood Creek, which flows three miles south of the park to the ocean at Muir Beach, is one of the last spawning streams in California for native coho salmon.
The Park Service plans to build 110 valet parking spaces on a country road, two bus stops on Highway 1 near the redwood enclave, and a half-mile trail connecting the bus stops to Muir Beach.
This will double the number of visitors to the area each year, the complaint states.
"They want to run Muir Woods like a restaurant - with all tables filled all day every day," the Mount Tam Task Force says on its website. "Will we be able to hike on weekdays?"
Mount Tam Task Force claims the Park Service violated the National Environmental Protection Act in an attempt to "sneak the project by the public as part of its larger plan to convert Muir Woods into a profit-generating theme park."
The Park Service ducked legal requirements for an environmental assessment by invoking categorical exclusions, which are special exceptions in the law used for routine actions that do not have a significant impact on the environment, the plaintiff's attorney said in an interview.
"[Categorical exclusions] are usually little routine actions that aren't controversial," said Chris Carr, of Morrisson & Foerster. "This is anything but unexceptional."
The Task Force demands that the Park Service transportation project be evaluated in a larger environmental impact statement already under way regarding a new general plan for the national monument.
"In some way appropriate environmental review has to occur," Carr said.
He said the law firm will seek a preliminary injunction this month if no action is taken. Construction is expected to begin in September.
The National Park Service website says the bus stops and trail upgrade will make it possible for the Muir Woods shuttle or Marin Stagecoach to serve Muir Beach.
"Connecting these services ... will create new opportunities for transit-dependent and disabled visitors, further reduce automobile congestion on Highway 1, serve recreational bicyclists and pedestrians and contribute to ecological improvements," according to the Park Service website.
A 2013 San Francisco Chronicle article about parking problems at Muir Woods called the monument "one of the jewels of the West," but said "getting there can be a nightmare."
A National Park Service representative said the Park Service had no comment.