Tourism increased in both Calaveras and Tuolumne counties and accounted for more than 5,100 travel-generated jobs, continuing upward trends in direct travel spending and employment in both Mother Lode counties.
The 2017-18 numbers — the most recent available — do not reflect the impact of last year’s megafires, the Donnell and Ferguson fires that resulted in closures on highways 108 and 120, closures in Yosemite National Park in 2018, and the recent month-long partial federal government shutdown on the Mother Lode’s largest private-sector industry.
Travel-generated employment in 2017 accounted for 2,656 jobs in Calaveras County, and 2,482 jobs in Tuolumne County, according to a California Travel Impacts report by Dean Runyan Associates. In 2016, tourism jobs made up 15 percent of total employment and about 8 percent of total employment in Tuolumne County.
Direct travel spending totaled more than $446 million in Calaveras and Tuolumne counties, and generated $32 million in local and state tax revenue.
Tourism increases in the Mother Lode in recent years have been driven in part by growing numbers of people traveling to Yosemite National Park. Recreation visits to Yosemite totaled 3.88 million in 2014, 4.15 million in 2015, 5.02 million in 2016, 4.33 million in 2017, and 4.16 million in 2018, according to the National Park Service.
The Ferguson Fire in July and August forced road closures, entrance closures and evacuations in Yosemite National Park and Yosemite Valley. Park staff noted the fire burned outside and inside park boundaries, and visitation was impacted by closures of the Arch Rock/El Portal entrance from July 14 through Aug. 14, and the Highway 41 Wawona entrance July 25 through Aug. 24. Highway 120/Big Oak Flat Road access to Yosemite Valley was also closed several days in August.
The Donnell Fire in August burned up multiple commercial and recreational buildings, including the historic Dardanelle Resort’s main building that dated to the 1920s, and it kept sections of Highway 108 and the Stanislaus National Forest closed for weeks before the fire was declared contained in late November.
Predicting what 2018 tourism statistics might look like for Calaveras County is difficult, because fires, closures and the government shutdown at the end of the year had positive and negative impacts on Calaveras County, Lisa Boulton, executive director for the Calaveras Visitors Bureau in Angels Camp, said Friday.
When Yosemite National Park is open, Calaveras benefits from drive traffic to and from Yosemite, due to visitors extending their vacations before or after they visit Yosemite, Boulton said.
When Yosemite is closed, there are often corresponding increases in visits to Calaveras Big Trees State Park from visitors who decided not to cancel their vacation plans altogether, and to enjoy the High Sierra near Yosemite, Boulton said. Visitors to Big Trees State Park can enjoy giant sequoias when access to Yosemite’s Mariposa Grove is closed.
“However, we will also lose some traffic from those who cancel their Yosemite plans which included extended vacations in the surrounding area,” Boulton said.
When wildfires affect Mother Lode air quality like the Ferguson Fire and the Donnell Fire did for so many weeks, this obviously has a detrimental effect on visitor numbers, Boulton said. However, depending on locations and wind directions, which can change throughout the day, Calaveras County can sometimes benefit from people trying to escape the smoke.
The partial federal government shutdown in December and January resulted in closures of some parts of Yosemite Valley and visitation decreased even though parts of the park remained open. Decreased visitation at Yosemite can have the same positive and negative effects as closures of the park, Boulton said. Access to the Stanislaus National Forest and Bureau of Land Management recreation areas remained unchanged.
Asked for Tuolumne County Visitors Bureau perspective on Friday, office manager Debbie Pallante said executive director Lisa Mayo was on vacation and referred questions to spokesperson Katie Kirkland, who could not be reached for comment.
Contact Guy McCarthy at email@example.com or 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.