Nearly 95% of Yosemite National Park is designated wilderness, and yet one of the sure signs of spring in Yosemite Valley is the blooming of apple trees. Obviously not part of the native flora, apple trees were planted in Yosemite Valley by early white settlers in the 1860s. Three orchards were maintained in the Valley: one near the present-day Ahwahnee Hotel planted in 1865 by early hotel proprietor James M. Hutchings (the Ahwahnee was not built until 1927), and two by homesteader James Lamon near Curry Village and near the Valley Stables in 1859. Lamon planted over 1000 fruit trees including pears, peaches, plums, almonds and nectarines, though only apple trees remain (with one exception).
The apple trees in the Valley are 150 years old and they still bear fruit year after year. The varieties found in these orchards are known as good storage apples suitable for cider. Very rare in North America, the heirloom varieties planted here include Northern Spy, King of Tompkins County, Spitzenberg, Winesap, Russet, and Gravenstein. According to local lore, there is one lone pear tree in the Lamon Orchard: Bartlett or Seckel.
In late summer, the National Park Service annually seeks volunteers to pick apples in the remaining orchards at the Stables and in the Curry Village parking lot. A bonus for the summer visitor from the NPS? Unfortunately, the fruit-bearing trees in the Valley attract the black bear population to within uncomfortable proximity of the human population, so the apples are picked as soon as possible to forestall this interaction.
So why not just eliminate the non-native apple trees from the national park? Ah, the vagaries of the Park Service. The orchards are clearly an aspect of the historic component of the park's history and are protected as pioneer heritage. The NPS mission is to 'preserve and protect for future enjoyment' even when conflict arises concerning the nature and application of preservation tactics. And so the orchards remain, causing headaches for the wildlife biologists as they try to minimize human/bear contact in this wilderness setting. Perhaps they should rethink their strategy.
In the meantime, we continue to enjoy the beauty of the blossoms and gnarled old trees with the occasional bear sighting as we live behind the Valley Stables and walk in the orchard almost daily. Three years ago I found a large Morel mushroom patch and scout every spring for more. I enthusiastically spotted some mushrooms this morning, but no sign of Morels. Come August I will join the picking crew and if you come to visit us in the Valley, apple pie will be served after dinner (thanks to my friend Bonnie for teaching me how).