Smoky conditions from a wildfire on the western border of Yosemite National Park are forcing park officials to close Yosemite Valley starting Wednesday through at least Sunday — in the heart of the park’s summer tourism season.
Yosemite spokesman Scott Gediman said at least 1,000 campground and hotel reservations have been canceled.
So if you’re one of the would-be campers with now-useless reservations for sites or lodging, now what?
One of your first concerns is probably: What happens to the money you paid for your campground or lodging reservation in the park? The good news is, you can get a refund.
“In the event of an emergency closure, recreation.gov will attempt to notify users and offer alternative dates and sites (if appropriate),” according to the federal reservations website. “If this is not possible, reservations will be canceled and all fees paid will be refunded.”
One of the telephone assistants at Recreation.gov told The Bee that customers can call or visit the website for details on refunds or to cancel a reservation. “If we’re notified that a specific campground is closed, we will cancel the reservation with a full refund,” the assistant said. People who call in to cancel their own reservation in Yosemite can also get a full refund. “If they visit Recreation.gov to cancel online, there is a $10 charge.”
The closure notice issued Tuesday also leaves visitors already in the park and those who may have been on their way wondering where they are supposed to stay now. The numbers could be considerable. Not only are there more than 1,200 lodging units in or around Yosemite Valley, from the luxurious Majestic Yosemite Hotel to the rustic Housekeeping Camp tent cabins, campsites for thousands more visitors are being affected by the closure.
While the entire park isn’t closed, the southern entrance from Highway 41 will be shut down, limiting the options for people wanting to visit places other than Yosemite Valley.
That has Rhonda Salisbury, CEO of Visit Yosemite / Madera County, and her staff scrambling to see what local hotels and other lodgings are available — not only in the foothill and mountain towns in eastern Madera County, but across the entire county — to accommodate Yosemite visitors who have to vacate the park.
“If anyone is displaced, we want to find them somewhere to go,” Salisbury said Tuesday afternoon. “The last thing we want is for them to have to wander around with no place to stay. … We want them to still be comfortable.”
But just as summer is the busy season in the park, it’s also a prime season for businesses in Oakhurst, Coarsegold and other “gateway communities” around Yosemite, including hotels and motels that are already heavily booked. Salisbury said some hoteliers in the area report that they are receiving calls to cancel reservations, but that people are also calling in almost as quickly to book rooms.
The visitor agency is also offering suggestions for things people can do in lieu of the park.
“Bass Lake has been smoky sometimes, but other days it’s been pretty darned clear,” Salisbury said. “We want to send visitors to places where they’re going to have fun. They can play at the lake or visit the museums.”
Salisbury said she anticipates that communities elsewhere around the perimeter of the park, including Tuolumne County and Lee Vining, have places where would-be Yosemite visitors can find lodging.
Some visitors may opt for other Sierra mountain communities, including the Gold Rush towns along Highway 49 from Oakhurst northward; to Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks to the south in Fresno and Tulare counties; or to the neighboring Sierra or Sequoia national forests.
Others may eschew the mountains and instead head to the Central Coast, including communities such as Avila Beach, San Luis Obispo, Morro Bay, Cambria and others. But those towns also tend to be busy during the summer, particularly on weekends.
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