You might understand if Tuolumne County was not up to having visitors this weekend. Drought and wildfire have worn it out over the past half-decade.
But this place depends on tourism for many of its jobs, and the abundant storms of 2017 have brought new life. Dodge Ridge had a solid season, serving skiers and snowboarders until April 16. The snowmelt across the Sierra Nevada is now running into reservoirs that will have plenty of room for boating and fishing this year.
Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start of summer for the county’s tourist industry, which serves everyone from Modesto day-trippers to folks from India. They can relive the Gold Rush in Columbia, camp and hike at Pinecrest Lake, venture into wilderness areas, and dine at some nice restaurants.
The scars remain from the recent disasters, notably the Rim fire of 2013, which at 257,314 acres is the largest on record in the Sierra. But many parts had light damage, including the portion in Yosemite National Park, and visitors can see the start of the recovery.
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The 2012-16 drought also brought an outbreak of bark beetles that killed more than 100 million conifers in the central and southern Sierra. Many have been removed near homes, campgrounds and other places where they could have toppled onto people. Visitors might find that they can no longer pitch their tent under the tree that had long provided them shade, campground manager Katie Fromm said.
“They get the same campsite every single year, so they’re used to the landscape,” she said.
Fromm works for Dodge Ridge, which switches after ski season to management of 11 campgrounds under a contract with the Stanislaus National Forest.
Campground hosts advise guests to be careful along rivers and creeks, which could be unsafe for swimming.
The storms caused extensive damage to roads in the national forest. And a landslide blocked the road between Highway 120 and Yosemite Valley, but it is now back open.
“The past couple months, we had challenges with road closures, which affected our partners, particularly Highway 120,” said Lisa Mayo, executive director of the Tuolumne County Visitors Bureau. “Our goal is to try and meet the challenge of helping them make up for lost business during that time.”
Most of 120 in Yosemite remains closed by snow, barring travel over Tioga Pass into Mono County. The same goes for Sonora Pass on Highway 108. Drivers can get as far east as the Kennedy Meadows Resort and Pack Station, which offers horseback trips into the Emigrant Wilderness.
The Modesto Bee dropped in earlier this month and spoke with operator Matt Bloom. He said snow will remain in the higher ground longer than usual and the streams will be flowing well. But that day, May 18, had a low temperature of 28 degrees, meaning a little delay in the snowmelt.
John Holland: 209-578-2385
By the numbers
2,340: Jobs related to tourism in Tuolumne County in 2016
$230 million: Visitor spending in county that year
Source: Dean Runyan Associates