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June 22, 2008

Oakhurst: Yosemite's neighbor a welcome stop

OAKHURST (Madera County) -- Sitting 15 miles outside the southern entrance to Yosemite National Park and surrounded by hillsides dotted with oak and pine, Oakhurst is a convenient stop before entering one of the nation's most heralded parks.

Visitors lose themselves inside antique shops and art galleries and browse through bookstores while venturing about the streets of the historic town.

Once known as Fresno Flats, Oakhurst supplied wares to local mining businesses and lumber operations during the 1850's.

At Fresno Flats Historical Park, many buildings and artifacts have been preserved for your viewing pleasure.

The trip to Fresno Flats Historical Park is off Highway 41 and Road 426 and takes visitors right past a historic landmark, the Famous Talking Bear. This is no Yogi. Rather, it is a stone replica of a bear who, with a push of a button, voices some information about the California Grizzly and promotes a message regarding the conservation of the forest and its inhabitants.

The park includes homes dating to the 1870s, one-room schoolhouses, farm outbuildings and two early-19th-century jails.

Just a few miles from Oakhurst is the popular boating, fishing and resort spot Bass Lake. This warm-water lake is a hydroelectric reservoir and attracts swimmers, water skiers and fisherman. The 4-mile-long lake (it was featured in the John Candy/Dan Aykroyd movie "The Great Outdoors") is on the north fork of Willow Creek, a tributary of the San Joaquin River. It is gearing up for its annual Fourth of July fireworks celebration, which attracts thousands to the colorful display over the water.

Visiting Oakhurst and its surrounding sites offers historical ambience, rustic scenery and a chance to picnic while enjoying the view lakeside or soaking up the area's history.

Bee assistant librarian Karen Aiello can be reached at or 578-2392.

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