Grant Grove Visitor Center and the General Grant Tree, closed for nearly two weeks because of the Rough fire, reopened Tuesday morning to adoring visitors who gambled that they could get into the national park.
Visitors to Kings Canyon National Park can once again view the Grant tree – the world’s second largest giant sequoia.
On Tuesday, fire hose and a water drafting tank were removed from around the Grant tree, allowing access to the tree’s trail, which covers about one-third of a mile. Visitors can’t go to the east side of the tree, but will see its main sign and viewing area.
Firefighters also unwrapped Gamlin Cabin, which had been covered with a fire-resistant aluminum shield.
The Grant Grove Village market and restaurant, John Muir Lodge and the parking lot also reopened. The visitor center will operate from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday but will resume normal hours of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. starting Friday.
2,000 The number of people who visit the Grant tree on an average day this time of year, about half from other countries
Mike Theune, fire information officer, expected little to no difference in the number of visitors. He said just under 2,000 people visit the Grant tree on an average day this time of year, about half from other countries. Hundreds of tourists were seen descending from buses through mid-afternoon, many from France and Japan, eager to chat with rangers and learn about the forest.
“It’s a destination,” Theune said. Asked whether Grant Grove has ever closed before due to fire, he said the closures experienced during the Rough fire were unprecedented.
Around noon, Ly Mai of Australia and her friends started up the trail to the famous tree, stopping often to pose for pictures. Mai, 60, and her friends grew up in South Vietnam. Now they are half a world apart – she in Australia, the others in the U.S. and Canada.
The friends were on the last leg of a three-week roadtrip that started in Canada and would end in Salt Lake City. They learned about the fire through an Internet search Monday night after visiting Yosemite National Park and decided to take the risk and venture to Kings Canyon.
“I didn’t think it would actually be open,” Mai said. “So we’re very lucky then.”
Mai and her friends marveled at the giant trees. “There’s nothing like this in Australia,” she said.
But in Australia, there is drought and wildfire. So she wasn’t concerned for their safety. Plus, she knew firefighters would be cautious.
I didn’t think it would actually be open. So we’re very lucky then.
Ly Mai, a Grant Grove visitor from Australia
Valerie Gibson, 58, of Ohio, followed the news of the fire before her visit. She wasn’t sure she’d make it to the Grant tree.
“Oh, it’s beautiful,” she said, craning her neck to take it all in.
Gibson asked Theune how close she was to the perimeter of the fire.
“The fire line is here along the ridge,” he told her. “You can still smell some smoke.”
“It was a little eerie when we were driving up and saw the smoke,” Gibson said later. But she continued on, eager to see sequoias for the first time.
Saturday is the 125th anniversary of Sequoia National Park and the 75th anniversary of Kings Canyon National Park.
Highway 180 is closed just beyond the General Grant Tree. Cedar Grove, at the end of Highway 180 and closed in early August due to the fire, will remain closed until spring, the park service said.
In another development, all mandatory evacuations caused by the Rough fire were lifted, the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office said. But access to areas off Highway 180 near or in the fire zone remains limited.
Access to Hume Lake and the Christian camp located there is being limited to residents and staff only, said sheriff’s spokesman Tony Botti. The camp canceled all programs through November as it works to clean up facilities in the aftermath of the big blaze, which burned up to and around the camp but did not damage it.
Certain roads remain closed as firefighters work to fully contain the blaze, which is the largest burning in California:
▪ Millwood Road north of Highway 180;
▪ Quail Flat and at Forest Service Road 14S11 along the Generals Highway.
The Rough fire started July 31 after lightning struck a mountainside in Kings Canyon. It has burned 142,629 acres and is 70 percent contained. About 1,500 firefighters remain assigned to the blaze.
Saturday is the 125th anniversary of Sequoia National Park and what was then General Grant National Park. Now known as Kings Canyon National Park, the same day marks its 75th anniversary under that name.
To mark the celebration, the parks are hosting activities and ranger-led programs. Entrance to Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks is free on Friday for the anniversary and Saturday all national parks are free for National Lands Day.