Yosemite National Park reopened on Tuesday after a being closed for 20 days because of severe wildfires.
The park is in the western state of California and has been suffering from some of the worst forest fires in its history. The fires have burned 389 square kilometers of land and killed two fire fighters since they started on July 13.
The fires did not reach the center of Yosemite Valley, but they still burned far away areas of the park and filled popular places with smoke.
Not soon enough
The reopening of Yosemite National Park cannot come soon enough for Douglas Shaw. He estimates that the closure cost him $200,000 in lost profits at his hotel near Yosemite. That is because the summer months are the busiest part of the tourist season there.
In recent weeks, Shaw used all the money he had saved. He had to let go of eight of his 43 employees. Now, he is considering retiring early to avoid a possible future with similar damaging wildfires.
“If I hadn’t had savings, which is depleted, I’d be scrambling for money or I wouldn’t have a business,” Shaw said Monday.
Shaw is among hundreds of business owners in small communities surrounding Yosemite who depend on tourist money. Tens of thousands of visitors from around the world canceled trips because of the park’s closure, which began on July 25.
Worst in state history
Fires in several areas in California have killed at least a dozen people. The most recent victim was a firefighter from Utah who died Monday while battling the largest fire north of San Francisco.
In Yosemite, the wildfires were most severe during the busiest month for tourism. The National Park Service says Yosemite usually gets more than 600,000 visitors during the month of August.
Steve Montalto is creative director at Visit Yosemite Madera County. He said visitor centers in the area and the park are estimating they have lost about $50 million in combined tourism income.
Hotel owners and other businesses are happy about the reopening. But it will likely be weeks before their business recovers.
Shaw said rooms in his hotel probably will not be more than 45 percent reserved this week. Usually, he said, the hotel is completely reserved for weeks. There were just 10 people staying there Monday night, he added.
Tom Lambert rents an apartment within the park. He said he and his wife have lost about $20,000 in profits because of the closure. He said his next reservation is not until the end of August. That is because the apartment is near the only entrance to Yosemite Valley that will remain closed for at least another week.
“The summer is pretty much lost,” he said.
Spreading the message
Officials are trying to spread the message that the park is open again. They have posted pictures of themselves and visitors holding red paddleboards that say #YosemiteNOW online. They have asked visitors to do the same.
Scott Gediman is a park ranger. He said the loss in visitor money will affect park improvements, such as fixing roads and updating buildings.
Because those projects are planned years ahead, all improvements for this year will be covered. But projects in the future will be affected.
Gediman says that in Yosemite, visitors likely will see some smoke and even fire as they come to the park. However, the fire is almost completely under control.
“People won’t have the crystal clear blue skies they’re used to,” he said, but added that the smoke “is the best I’ve seen it in several weeks.”
I’m Phil Dierking.
This story was written by Amanda Lee Meyers for the Associated Press. Phil Dierking adapted the story for Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.
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Words in This Story
deplete - v. to use most or all of (something important)
dozen - n. a group of 12 people or things
let go - v. to end someone's employment
paddleboard - n. A surfboard or similar long narrow board that a rider propels over the water, often in a standing position by means of a long-handled paddle. intransitive verb.
reserve - v. to make arrangements so that you will be able to use or have (something, such as a room, table, or seat) at a later time
scrambling - v. to move or act quickly to do, find, or get something often before someone else does
crystal clear - adj. perfectly clear; able to be seen through completely