Yosemite park reopens, but fire’s toll on tourism still felt
LOS ANGELES (AP) — The reopening of Yosemite National Park can’t come soon enough for Douglas Shaw.
The 20-day closure during peak tourist season at one of the busiest parks in the U.S. cost Shaw $200,000 in lost revenue at his hotel just outside Yosemite. Most of the park reopened Tuesday.
The nearly three-week closure was the result of a wildfire that has burned 150 square miles (389 square kilometers) and killed two firefighters since it started July 13.
During that time, Shaw wiped out his savings account, had to lay off eight of his 43 employees, and is considering early retirement to avoid a possible future with similar devastating wildfires.
“If I hadn’t had savings, which is depleted, I’d be scrambling for money or I wouldn’t have a business,” Shaw said Monday. “It’s a huge setback.”
Shaw is among hundreds of business owners in small communities surrounding Yosemite who depend on tourist dollars. Tens of thousands of visitors from across the globe canceled trips to the region because of the park’s closure, which began July 25.
The Ferguson Fire is one of several devastating blazes in California that have killed at least a dozen people — the latest being a firefighter from Utah who died Monday while battling the largest fire in recorded state history north of San Francisco.
In Yosemite, the wildfire peaked during the busiest month for tourism. The park draws more than 600,000 visitors during a typical August, according to the National Park Service.
Visitor bureaus in the area and the park are estimating roughly $50 million in combined tourism losses, said Steve Montalto, creative director at Visit Yosemite Madera County.
“From an economic standpoint, it’s majorly significant to the region,” said Montalto, who visited one of the most popular attractions at the park, the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, when it reopened Monday ahead of the larger opening Tuesday.