Yosemite closed, businesses throttled

By Lacey Peterson, The Union Democrat October 02, 2013 11:20 am

Tuesday’s federal government shutdown closed Yosemite National Park to all but through traffic. Amy Alonzo Rozak / Union Democrat, Copyright 2013.
Groveland-area businesses already bruised by the Rim Fire are taking a new financial hit with the federal government shutdown that closed Yosemite National Park.

Business owners say they are seeing reservation cancellations and lower traffic as a result of the federal shutdown, now entering its second day.

While through highways remain open, National Park Service officials closed Yosemite to visitors Tuesday. Those already in the park were given two days to leave, park representatives said.

About 450,000 people visit Yosemite in an average October, or about 15,000 per day, according to park officials.

The lack of that traffic compounds the financial damage already wrought along the Highway 120 corridor by the Rim Fire. That fire closed the highway into the park for several days, including over the Labor Day weekend.

“This is just the year to forget,” said Yosemite Guide Service owner John Kleinfelter.

The Rim Fire was somewhat understandable, he said, since “we know that (a fire) could happen.”

“But having the government shut down and the park shut down is just a slap in the face.”

Kleinfelter is a sole proprietor and does backpacking, hiking and photography tours in the high country. His business was impacted by the road closures during the height of the Rim Fire.

He had a last-minute reservation for a Tuesday tour, a chance to make up some money lost during the fire, and then had to cancel Monday night.

Park visitors were “very disappointed,” Kleinfelter said. “It becomes very real and personal to them. They’re spending a significant amount of vacation time and income.”

Yexplore Yosemite Adventures owner John DeGrazio said he drove up to the park Tuesday morning and was turned away.

“The park said no one is allowed to enter until the shutdown is over. We had to cancel today’s tour for this morning. We’re hopeful there can be a resolution sometime soon,” DeGrazio said.

His Yosemite-based business does guided hiking tours, nature tours and photography workshops.

Several tours are on hold and DeGrazio said he hopes he won’t have to lay off any of his 20 employees.

The economic impact has a ripple effect and some contracts will have to be canceled, he said.

Lodging owner, Steve McCorkle, of the Blackberry Inn Bed and Breakfast in Buck Meadows, said the inn was set to open Friday after finally clearing out all the ash and soot from the Rim Fire.

McCorkle said the government shutdown is worrisome. 

“We went through the fire situation like everyone else. We had a huge amount of cancellations,” he said. “We were just finishing up power washing the buildings ... We were just getting ready to open.”

McCorkle said the business has started to get cancellations for this weekend.

“We don’t know what to do ... We thought we had the opportunity to salvage October,” McCorkle said.

Groveland Hotel owner Peggy Mosley said the hotel hadn’t had any cancellations for the weekend as of Tuesday at lunch, but she is “waiting for the other shoe to drop.”

“I’m sure they will be coming in,” Mosley said of cancelled reservations. “This on the heels of the Rim Fire is just more than you want to deal with.”

Mosley wrote a letter of protest about the shutdown and sent it to the U.S. Travel Association, Yosemite National Park Superintendent Don Neubacher, Congressman Tom McClintock and Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

Mosley said Groveland-area businesses are trying to entice tourists to keep reservations and still visit by offering price specials and alternative activities.

Mosley said “no one can understand how Congress can get paid,” but others can’t.