Maintenance crews work at Yosemite’s Big Trees Lodge, formerly the Wawona Hotel, in anticipation for the summer tourist season. Local attractions are expecting a rush of activity this year. Photo by Edward Smith.
With summer around the corner in June, national parks, lakes and other tourist destinations are making preparations for the annual influx of visitors wishing to take in the outdoors.
According to business forecasting firm Kiplinger, travel is now a $1 trillion industry in the United States. In the Central Valley, businesses at popular tourist sites are hoping to be a part of it. National parks like Yosemite and Sequoia and Kings Canyon receive millions of visitors each year. According to the U.S. National Park service, Yosemite alone took in more than 4.3 million visitors from around the world in 2017.
This year, the June 15 reopening of an old favorite — Yosemite’s biggest grove of sequoias — is expected to be a crowd favorite.
“Yosemite is always a draw for visitors and driving up SR-41, visitors will be greeted with Mariposa Grove re-opening,” said Therese Williams, director of public relations and sales for Visit Yosemite Madera County. “It has been closed for two years, so this is sure to be exciting for visitors to see the enormity of the trees.”
Located near Wawona, the sequoia trees of Mariposa Grove have been off limits while the area was the subject of a restoration project that began in 2015.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks for their part saw 2 million visitors in 2017, an all-time record for each. Sintia Kawasaki-Yee, the acting public affairs officer for the park, attributes the visitor growth to the Centennial Campaign for America’s National Parks, a nationwide fundraising effort to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.
The increase in tourism has also been good for local businesses.
“It’s a great driver for our hospitality industry, for local hotels — I think our local communities really depend on us being here and being a driver for visitation,” Kawasaki-Yee said. “And so I think the more business we get into our parks, the more positive an impact we have on the local communities and our local economy.”
With the increased levels of rain and snowfall, however, the park has had to deal with swifter currents in its rivers. Kawasaki-Yee identified this as one of the primary concerns for the staff at Sequoia and Kings Canyon. Still, the park remains a favorite spot, aided by their close proximity to Yosemite along with their landmark trees.
“Everyone wants to come see the giants at Sequoia and Kings Canyon, and certainly that’s one of the biggest drivers,” she said. “I also think that — especially in the Valley — it gets so hot down here and people like to get to a higher elevation, to not only go see the sequoias, but also get away from the heat.”
Meanwhile, the Valley’s lakes also remain a popular draw, generating revenue from businesses seeking to accommodate such outdoor activities as fishing, hiking, boating, kayaking, skiing and boarding. The heavy March rainfall has helped fill up the lakes.
“There are facilities where you can rent these types of watercraft if you want to,” said Shaver Lake Visitor’s Bureau volunteer Ed Delaney. “Some of the facilities offer training, so if you’ve never waterskied or been on a wakeboard, they teach you how to experience those kinds of adventures.”
For his part, Delaney has also found a way to generate revenue through a touring business at Shaver Lake. His new company, Sierra Jeep Tours in Prather, offers up to four passengers the opportunity to visit the sites along the Sierra Nevadas in Eastern Fresno County.
“It looks positive,” Delaney said. “We have a lot folks telling us this is something they want to do.”
Likewise, Bass Lake in Madera County is preparing for large amounts of people, especially with Yosemite National Park close by. Mark Choe, the proprietor at the Pines Resort on the lake, said that at least 60 percent of his guests visit Yosemite at least once. The park is a major driver for lodging.
“Although Bass Lake is in the Sierra National Forest, it has many less restrictions than Yosemite and allows Yosemite visitors the opportunity to do other activities such as watersports, off road sports and hikes with pets,” Choe said. “Bass Lake helps Yosemite guests out by giving them a nice place to stay that is also a unique experience.”
Choe said that the Pines will also be hosting a number of events, starting with the Bass Lake Fishing Derby on May 5 and 6.