Trees knocked out restrooms and crushed roofs, disrupted plumbing and power systems and bashed in tents during the wet, wild winter in Yosemite National Park, prompting a delay in opening several campgrounds and, also likely, opening Tioga Pass.
National Park Service spokesperson Jamie Richards on Wednesday said park officials are still assessing the damage, so there may be more delayed openings, especially to roads.
The snowpack may reveal road damage and other problems. Tioga Pass plowing will begin some time in April, but the amount of snow in the high country means Caltrans may miss the traditional target date — Memorial Day — for opening.
Richards said more than 7 feet of snow was on the ground at Tuolumne Meadows on Tioga Road on March 1. That is 147 percent higher than average.
Lisa Cesaro, spokesperson for Yosemite Hospitality, a subsidiary of Aramark that runs the concessions, said because of the inaccessibility of Tioga Road they don’t know when amenities like Tuolumne Meadows Lodge and High Sierra Camps will open.
She said they hope Half Dome Village, where much of the damage occurred, will be open by April 1. Also delayed are Upper, Lower and North Pines campgrounds in Yosemite Valley. Camp 4 is the only campground open in the valley.
Yosemite Valley Lodge and the Majestic Yosemite Hotel are open year-round.
Business owners in Groveland met the news of the delay with characteristic aplomb, having seen the ups and downs of life near Yosemite, the sixth most visited national park in the country with 4 million visitors last year.
“Dry years, park closures, fire hazards,” said Steve Anker, owner of Priest Grade Cafe. “We’ve not had a single year when something didn’t go wrong.”
Lisa Mayo, the executive director of the Tuolumne County Visitors Bureau, said she estimates Tuolumne County as a whole took a $28 million hit because of fires and the government shutdown. The bureau itself is about $60,000 off its budget due to decreased tax collected on hotel room rentals.
Anker said he figures his business is off about 25 percent.
Chris Loh, who owns the iconic Iron Door Saloon in Groveland, said, “It will definitely hurt us.”
He explained it like this: from Memorial Day through the fall, business owners who depend on tourism are like squirrels. They run around frantically gather nuts for winter.
“If we don’t get the nuts, we starve.” And the less time they have to do so, the worse it is. He said 80 to 90 percent of his revenue comes in summer to fall.
Jenn Edwards, owner of the Groveland Hotel, said she didn’t think the delay would hurt her business, and in fact, recently helped it when people who intended to camp rented rooms.
Edwards and Anker predicted the spring will be bountiful.
All that snow will melt and rush through the Merced River basin and that means one thing — abundant waterfalls. Free-flowing, wondrous waterfalls.
And that, in turn, brings visitors. People just want to see the spectacle. Edwards said she has already seen an increase in reservations because of the snowfall publicity.
“It is going to be epic,” she said.