Despite Rim fire, Yosemite Valley remains clear, beautiful for visitors, park officials say

08/24/2013 12:00 AM

09/03/2013 2:34 PM

If you have reservations to vacation inside Yosemite National Park in the coming days, chances are you made them a year ago and are sweating out the decision on whether to go.

Despite the fact that the massive Rim fire moved into the park boundary early Friday, park officials say the decision is simple: Go.

"The fire is not affecting Yosemite Valley," park ranger Kari Cobb said by phone Friday morning, when an estimated 12,000 to 15,000 visitors were enjoying the spectacular views and hiking trails inside the crown jewel of America's national parks.

"As a matter of fact, it's very clear skies, very blue skies. It's not hazy at all."

Cobb said all of the park's campgrounds remain full, as is normal for a Yosemite summer day.

The biggest impact on the park itself so far is the closure of Highway 120 and the fire inside the park, which had burned more than 11,000 acres of remote forest inside the boundary of the 1,200- square-mile park.

"It is in a remote area where there are no visitor services, and it's an area where we had previously closed it several days ago as a precaution," Cobb said. "So, all of our visitors and our employees have been moved out of the area.

"Specifically, the fire that's crossed the boundary is located 4 miles west of the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir and over 20 miles from Yosemite Valley."

The road closure may pose an inconvenience for visitors coming from Sacramento or the Bay Area, Cobb said. They will have to go to Highway 140 to enter the park.

"It'll add about 20 to 30 minutes to the drive," she said.

Cobb said she had been fielding numerous telephone calls from people with questions about the fire's impact on Yosemite.

"It's hard because you see the news coverage of how crazy and big and smoky it is," she said. "But it really is completely clear in Yosemite Valley. It's crystal clear.

"I'm not kidding. So, visitors should still come to the park."

A handful of people with reservations to stay in one of the park's lodges have canceled due to news of the fire, according to Lisa Cesaro, a spokeswoman for Delaware North Cos., which runs the concession that operates the park's lodges.

But most of the 1,300 rooms are booked and the majority of visitors calling with concerns end up deciding to come to the park, she said.

"We have received some inquiries from our guests, but most are continuing with their plans to come to the park," Cesaro said, adding that officials remain committed to ensuring safety for all visitors.

"I'm sitting right now in Yosemite Valley, and it's pretty nice," she added.

People planning to come on Sunday will have an added incentive other than the many usual reasons to visit one of the most beautiful spots on earth: It'll be free.

Sunday is Founder's Day, commemorating the 97th anniversary of the creation of the National Park Service, and the regular $20 car admission fee will be waived.

Call The Bee's Sam Stanton, (916) 321-1091. Follow him on Twitter @stantonsam.

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