The 2019 Yosemite Facelift Is Right Around the Corner, Here’s What You Need to Know

raffle at the Facelift
The volunteers gather for a raffle during the 2017 Facelift. Yosemite Facelift

Mark your calendar for Yosemite’s premier event of the year, drawing visitors, locals and professional speakers to help clean the park they love: Yosemite Facelift, Sept. 24-30. The annual event spans the entirety of Yosemite National Park – all 1,200 square miles of it – with centralized activities in the center of the park at Yosemite Village.

“Who knew it could be so much fun to clean up trash,” Yosemite Facelift founder Ken Yager tells ASN. “It’s a combination of working side-by-side with old friends and new. Some folks show up to meet other like-minded people, and they walk away with new hiking or climbing partners. Plus, it’s a beautiful time of year, with evening events and raffles, and great beer.”

He continues, “It seems like it’s a really dirty year; people aren’t being nice to the national parks.”

Timmy O'Neill on stage during evening events
2017: Timmy O’Neill on stage during evening events. Yosemite Facelift

Started in 2004 by climber and historian Yager, who, disgusted by the heaps of human waste collecting near his favorite climbs, gathered up a few friends to do something about it. Without press or incentives other than to keep the park clean, they gathered trash and took the bags to Yager’s pick-up for removal.

The event caught attention and within a few years it became very popular. In 2007 Facelift earned its first big news break, resulting in a five-minute spot on ABC’s World News Tonight. “Ever since then, it’s been really big,” says Yager.

As the event has grown in popularity, so too has the overall experience. Today Facelift includes nightly speakers and entertainment, including raffles, food, drinks, and movies. To date, Yager’s efforts have contributed to the removal of one million pounds of trash.

“Initially there was trash everywhere and we would find between 100,000 to 400,000 pounds a year,” Yager explains. “Recently we’ve consistently collected about 15,000, which is about what visitors leave behind each year.”

Over the years, it’s also increased the relationship between different user groups within the park. This includes visitors, hikers, climbers, concession workers, and park service employees.

Alex Honnold on stage
Alex Honnold on stage during the 2018 Facelift. Chris Van Leuven

Today the park service works alongside concession workers and the general public, performing basic trash pick-up and special projects, which include climbing trail restoration and the removal of graffiti, social trails, and invasive plant species.

Last year, Alex Honnold spoke to audiences before premiering “Free Solo” to a packed house.

Humble Beginnings

As a local of 43 years, Yager has witnessed visitation explode in Yosemite, and though he believes most visitors practice Leave No Trace, he knows it only takes a few people to leave a negative impact. Common waste problems include toilet paper left next to trails and behind boulders, discarded cigarette butts, and plastic bottles.

With the success of Facelift, Yager is working on expanding cleanups in other national parks. He coordinates with the National Park Service and his sponsors The North Face, Subaru, Patagonia, and others. He’d like to clean up Joshua Tree, the Grand Canyon, and Rocky Mountain National Park.

Ken Yager outside the theater
2018: Ken Yager outside the Yosemite Theater before the premiere of Free Solo. Chris Van Leuven

Lodging

Though event camping is full (it fills up in two hours) accommodations are available in and outside the park. Sometimes last-minute cancellations occur. Those looking to stay should check standard lodging options from the park’s concession service, camping through the park service, and lodging in the nearby towns of Midpines and Mariposa. Autocamp is located in Midpines.

High Visitation Results in High Impact

Though the park has (mostly) recovered from the partial government shutdown last winter, increased tourism continues to impact the area. On average, more than 20,000 people visit Yosemite every day during summer months. Annual visitation is between 4 and 5 million people, with the majority coming between May and September.

If you can’t make it to this year’s event, tax-deductible donations can be made on YosemiteClimbing.org.

You can check out this year’s schedule at Yosemite Climbing Association’s website.

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