Yosemite reopens to visitors with smoky air, tight lodging

Associated Press

Yosemite National Park reopened its scenic valley Tuesday after a nearly three-week closure due to nearby wildfires but advised visitors to expect some smoke in the air and limited lodging and food services in the popular California park.

Meanwhile, a blaze in Montana prompted a hasty evacuation of hundreds of visitors at another national park.

At least nine homes and cabins in a historic district of Glacier National Park were destroyed in a wildfire that raged through the Montana park’s busiest area, with hundreds of summer homes, cabins and a lakefront lodge.

Park officials said the lost buildings include the so-called Big House at Kelly’s Camp, a resort developed early last century serving auto travelers along Glacier’s famous Going-to-the-Sun Road.

Glacier Conservancy Executive Director Doug Mitchell says it’s a “gut punch” to lose some of the park’s iconic buildings.

Firefighters managed to save several historic structures that caught fire. Among them were the Lake McDonald Ranger station and the Wheeler Cabin, built by the family of Montana’s former U.S. Sen. Burton Wheeler.

The wildfires raging through parts of the West Coast have caused massive financial losses to parks and nearby communities and also forced thousands of tourists to cancel visits.

Yosemite’s 20-day closure came during the busiest month for tourism. The park draws more than 600,000 visitors during a typical August, according to the National Park Service.

Undeterred by lingering haze, cars packed with visitors lined up at Yosemite entrance gates where tourists said they didn’t mind the slightly obscured vistas.

“It’s smoky, but you can see most of the mountains – just not the tops,” said Dutch tourist Gert Lammers, who entered a gate on the western side of the park near the town of El Portal, driving past fire crews and burned out cars and structures.

“We feel lucky that it’s open today,” said Lammers, 48, who heads back to Holland on Friday after a three-week tour of California with his wife and two children.

Tens of thousands of visitors from across the globe had to cancel their trips to Yosemite, which shut its famed valley July 25 due to smoke from a nearby wildfire that has burned 150 square miles and killed two firefighters since it started July 13. Though the blaze didn’t reach the heart of Yosemite Valley, it burned in remote areas of the park and choked popular areas with smoke.

Park spokeswoman Jamie Richards said Tuesday that Yosemite was still calculating the financial impacts to the park, noting that not all campsites were reopening immediately and visitors should check the park’s website to see what services were still closed.

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