A Wonder Valley guest goes down the zipline as part of their rope-climbing tower. Photo via Wonder Valley
Written by Donald A. Promnitz
Since Wonder Valley Ranch reopened in July, it has been getting steady business from those wanting to get out of the house, but with no place go in the pandemic.
According to Roy Oken, the owner of the Sanger ranch, 70 people in 17 families made their way up for archery, wall climbing, kayaking and other activities.
There are still restrictions in place due to Covid concerns, however. Guests are not allowed to group up, with only one family per activity at any given time, rotated in 30-minute intervals. They also turned to a cafeteria-style method of serving meals, which families take outdoors.
But even with these changes in place, they’ve seen high demand.
“It’s been interesting because families — they haven’t had anything fun to do. They’re getting tired of being cooped up, and it’s close,” said Barbara Dillon, Wonder Valley’s event sales manager. “And yet when you get up here, it feels like it’s far away because of all the different things they can do.”
The great outdoors in the Central Valley have also been a getaway for families. According to Brooke Smith, public relations director for Visit Yosemite/Madera County, 2019 was a record-setting year for tourism, bringing in $355 million in economic impact and $31 million worth of tax revenue for the county. And while the incurred losses from Covid are estimated to range from 35 to 50%, the pandemic hasn’t stopped locals from heading into mountains.
In fact, Smith said that in August, the No. 1 organic search item driving traffic to Visit California was “Bass Lake” in Madera County. And while the fires have been a major setback, vacation rentals were popular throughout most of the summer.
“It’s really interesting that people are searching for rural destinations. They come here, they can still have fun and they still explore. Bass Lake has seen record-setting business this year,” Smith said.
The wildfires haven’t seemed to slow things down back in Sanger, even as it’s resulted in mixed signals between going outside and staying in.
“Every morning as I drive up here, I hear air quality control say, ‘Stay inside,’ and you have the Health Department saying, ‘Do everything outside,’” Oken said.
But they’ve remained an in-demand spot, slowed down by the initial pandemic shutdowns, but not by the Creek Fire and its resulting poor air. In fact, they’ve been ramping up for a second round of advertising.
“It is interesting because even with the smoke, things that have been booked — they haven’t cancelled,” Dillon said. “Again, I think that shows the need to be able to do things again.”