Mountain businesses whose commerce was slammed by the closure of nearby national parks were heartened Thursday by the end of the 16-day federal government shutdown.
In towns like Oakhurst and Fish Camp, along Highway 41 on the way into Yosemite National Park, and Three Rivers on Highway 198 just outside Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, business owners were hopeful that reopening the parks would revive the flow of tourists -- and the dollars they spend -- after they all but dried up during the budget stalemate in Washington, D.C.
"We're so happy the shutdown is over," said Alice Leaf, co-owner with her husband Todd of Todd's Cookhouse Barbecue in Oakhurst. "It pretty much cut off our business by about half."
A few miles to the north, in the hamlet of Fish Camp at the southern edge of Yosemite National Park, online reservations at the Narrow Gauge Inn were already surging as the public learned of the park's reopening, manager Marlo Burghardt said.
"We were thrilled to hear that the park is open again," Burghardt said.
The hotel suffered a slew of canceled reservations and had to cut the hours of some employees after the park closed Oct. 1. She hopes the reopening helps the Narrow Gauge and other local businesses recapture some lost bookings. "October is really the last month to gain revenue before winter arrives," Burghardt said.
At Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, spokeswoman Dana Dierkes said the barricades at the Highway 180 and Highway 198 entrances came down Thursday morning. Within the first hour and a half, about 40 cars had come through the Highway 198 gate into Sequoia, and by mid-afternoon, the Kings Canyon entrance from Highway 180 had seen four commercial tour buses and almost 40 other vehicles.
By Thursday afternoon, some of the park's concession-operated businesses had reopened, including the Wuksachi Lodge and Restaurant, the Market at Lodgepole, and the John Muir Lodge and restaurant at Grant Grove.
"That is great news," said Lynn Bretz, who owns Reimer's Candies, a landmark business and popular stop in Three Rivers for more than 50 years for visitors on their way to or from Sequoia National Park. Bretz said the store held its own in attracting customers in the first two weeks of the shutdown, but it started to drop off last week.
"The last week of October and then November could be light until reservations fill up at the local hotels," he added.
The newest Reimer's location, which opened earlier this year in Oakhurst, experienced a bigger slump in business from the Yosemite park closure, Bretz said. "We're very excited that Yosemite opened back up," he said. "Hopefully, after a very difficult year with the Rim Fire, rainfall and the national park closure, this is the bottom and we go up from this point."
Glenn McIntyre, who owns the Gateway Restaurant and Lodge just outside of Sequoia National Park, said canceled reservations forced him to lay off eight of his 30 employees and reduce the hours of those who remained. "My wife and I are taking over cooking shifts, bartending shifts, server shifts, just to keep the doors open," he said.
While he's happy to see the park reopen, McIntyre is cautious about bringing back his employees because the budget deal is only a stop-gap measure.
"I'm a little worried that maybe the same thing is going to happen again in January," he said. "If for some reason it gets busy again, I will be on the phone to hire my people back.
"But I can't hire them back until business comes in the door and money comes into the bank," McIntyre added.
McIntyre, Leaf and Burghardt agreed that the biggest impact on the mountain communities was the loss of international visitors while the parks were closed.
"The international travelers have suffered tremendously, and so did the small businesses," said Burghardt, the Fish Camp hotelier. "We heavily rely on foreign visitors who travel to Yosemite."
Leaf, the Oakhurst restaurateur, said that weekend visitors from Fresno and the Valley helped sustain eateries in the town, "but this is the time of year when international tourism is at its peak, and that came to a complete halt."
McIntyre said he worries that international visits to the parks could be crippled for months, not weeks, and could ruin business into next summer.
"Over 90% of our reservations were canceled in the last two weeks, and they're canceled through the rest of the year," McIntyre added. "Most of the visitors to the national park are Europeans, and they'll fly into Los Angeles or Las Vegas, tour the national parks on their way up through California, and then fly home from San Francisco."
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6319, email@example.com.