The state’s dry weather seems to be good for business in Yosemite National Park and Mariposa County.
Favorable weather might be good news for an area that’s had a tough few months.
First there was the Rim fire, which started Aug. 17 in Tuolomne County and consumed more than 257,314 acres of forestland before it was contained in October, making it California’s fifth-largest wildfire in history. Some roads in Yosemite were closed and smoke could be seen billowing into the park.
“We had an early end to the tourist season in the summertime,” said Terry Evans, managing partner of Prospector’s Brewing Co. and its tap room in Mariposa. “It seems like the whole world thought Yosemite was on fire and didn’t come.”
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Then came the 16-day federal government shutdown in October, which resulted in the closure of Yosemite.
And now dry weather has been rough on places that lean on winter sports tourism, such as Dodge Ridge in Tuolomne County. However, business owners and officials near Yosemite say most of their visitors prefer the snow-free roads.
Prospector’s, which can be a destination for “beer geeks,” had some of its best days for business this year around Christmas Day, Evans said. The craft beer scene has grown in popularity, he said. “Trying to figure the tourism thing is pretty difficult,” Evans said. “You never know what’s causing people to come through, but our tap room has been packed.”
Mariposa saw 7.64 inches of precipitation in 2013, according to the National Weather Service in Hanford. That’s about a quarter of the 32.95 inches it gets in a typical year, and snow is not expected in the coming week.
Badger Pass Ski Area, which is located in Yosemite, had enough snow to open the cross-country skiing and snowshoe trails Dec. 20. The warm, dry weather put an end to that after six days, according to Lisa Cesaro, public relations manager for the ski area.
Cesaro said the ski area does not have snow-making machines. But occupancy at the hotels and lodges has been “on par or better” than most years. They have even started some their springtime activities, such as renting out mountain bikes, she said.
“(Some) people really want to have that snow experience,” Cesaro said, “but some people are happy because it’s warm and you’re out hiking.”
More than 3 million people visit Yosemite each year, and many pass through Mariposa on their way up Highway 140.
Mariposa County received about $11.4 million in transient tax revenues, mostly generated by tourism, each of the past two years. It accounts for more than 40 percent of the county’s general fund.
“We have been trying to turn the unseasonably warm weather into a positive and still reach out and encourage people to experience the beauty of the park,” said Terry Selk, executive director of Yosemite-Mariposa County Tourism Bureau.
Selk said it will take some time to figure out if the weather is having a large impact. Mariposa isn’t waiting. This month, California’s Restaurant Month, many businesses are taking part in promotional efforts to drum up business.
River Rock Inn and Deli Garden Cafe Manager Adam Gidasi said business has been brisk at the seven-room inn and eatery. He doesn’t see many snow tourists in the winter. “It doesn’t make or break us,” he said. “I think the warm weather has been good for business.”
The inn often sees tour groups who come in by the busload for lunch. Things could change when school restarts this month, he said.
December and January are typically slower months for Yosemite park visitors, with 117,000 and 109,000 on average, respectively. But the dry weather will likely continue to bring tourists, said Yosemite spokeswoman Kari Cobb.
Tourists like to be able to see the park’s natural wonders without slogging through snow-covered roads, she said, especially on the weekends. There is some snow at the highest park elevations near Tioga Pass, she said.
The park is generally busier when the weather is dry, Cobb said, but it does come with a downside – wimpier waterfalls in the spring and summer.
“If you’re coming here in the summertime for waterfalls or rafting,” Cobb said, “you may want to make that trip a little bit earlier than normal.”