Yosemite National Park reopened its scenic valley Tuesday after a nearly three-week closure caused by nearby wildfires, but advised visitors to expect some smoke in the air and limited lodging and food services in the popular California park.

Meanwhile, a blaze in Montana prompted a hasty evacuation of hundreds of visitors at another national park. At least nine homes and cabins in a historic district of Glacier National Park were destroyed in a wildfire that raged through the park’s busiest area, with hundreds of summer homes, cabins and a lakefront lodge.

Park officials said the lost buildings include the so-called Big House at Kelly’s Camp, a resort developed early last century that served auto travelers along Glacier’s famous Going-to-the-Sun Road.

Glacier Conservancy Executive Director Doug Mitchell said it’s a “gut punch” to lose some of the park’s iconic buildings.

Firefighters managed to save several historic structures that caught fire. Among them were the Lake McDonald Ranger station and the Wheeler Cabin, built by the family of Montana’s former U.S. Sen. Burton Wheeler.

The wildfires raging through parts of the West Coast have caused massive financial losses to parks and nearby communities and also forced thousands of tourists to cancel visits.

Yosemite’s 20-day closure came during the busiest month for tourism. The park draws more than 600,000 visitors during a typical August, according to the National Park Service.

Undeterred by lingering haze, cars packed with visitors lined up at Yosemite entrance gates where tourists said they didn’t mind the slightly obscured vistas.

“It’s smoky, but you can see most of the mountains – just not the tops,” said Dutch tourist Gert Lammers, who entered a gate on the western side of the park near the town of El Portal, driving past fire crews and burned out cars and structures.

Tourists ride through a smoky and hazy vista Tuesday at Yosemite National Park. Many visitors said they didn’t mind the slightly obscured vistas, such as the tops of mountains.

“We feel lucky that it’s open today,” said Lammers, 48, who heads back to Holland on Friday after a three-week tour of California with his wife and two children.

Tens of thousands of visitors from across the globe had to cancel their trips to Yosemite, which shut its famed valley on July 25 because of smoke from a nearby wildfire that has burned 150 square miles and killed two firefighters since it started July 13. Though the blaze didn’t reach the heart of Yosemite Valley, it burned in remote areas of the park and choked popular areas with smoke.

Park spokeswoman Jamie Richards said Tuesday that Yosemite was still calculating the financial impacts to the park, noting that not all campsites were reopening immediately and visitors should check the park’s website to see what services were still closed.

“Yosemite Valley and the majority of Yosemite National Park is reopened to all visitors. However, services within the park will be limited,” Richards said, including some lodging and food services. “We are working to get campgrounds back up and running.”

Visitor bureaus in the area and the park are estimating roughly $50 million in combined tourism losses, said Steve Montalto, creative director at Visit Yosemite Madera County.

“It’s like a big breath of fresh air to be able to get in there and explore these places again,” he said.

The park’s reopening couldn’t come soon enough for Douglas Shaw, who runs a hotel just outside Yosemite. He’s one of hundreds of business owners in small communities surrounding Yosemite who depend on traffic to and from the park.

Shaw said the park’s closure wiped out his savings account and cost him $200,000 in lost revenue. He had to lay off eight of his 43 employees, and is considering early retirement to avoid a possible future with similar devastating 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. “It’s a huge setback.”

filed under:

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.