Oakhurst, Coarsegold businesses on path to recovery as Wawona Road reopens

Excitement mounts as Yosemite Valley reopens to the public Tuesday

Tourists and visitors descended upon Yosemite Valley on Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2018, after the park had been closed for three weeks due to the Ferguson Fire.
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Tourists and visitors descended upon Yosemite Valley on Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2018, after the park had been closed for three weeks due to the Ferguson Fire.

The reopening Friday morning of the Highway 41 route into Yosemite Valley could not have come at a better time for a number of Coarsegold and Oakhurst small business owners.

A portion of Wawona Road (Highway 41 inside Yosemite National Park) had been closed since July 25 due to the Ferguson Fire, which was contained at 96,901 acres on Aug. 19 after a month-long battle. Wawona Road was the only pathway into Yosemite Valley that remained closed after the fire’s containment due to dead trees along the road that proved hazardous.

But the road was finally opened at 8 a.m. Friday, a welcoming sight to business owners in communities like Oakhurst and Coarsegold who rely on the traffic through the highway for business.

As early as 8 a.m., The Cool Bean Cafe in Oakhurst had a lively crowd of tourists sipping on lattes and mochas. Around 30 people packed the small building, with a line of customers leading out the door.

“When the 41 was closed, we just didn’t have business going through Oakhurst and now that we do it’s helping, not only our business, but our friend’s businesses as well,” said KC Butterfield, manager of The Cool Bean Cafe. He described the uptick in business as “massive.”

Ferguson Fire003
A National Park Service officer keeps watch over the road closure on Highway 41 at Wawona in Yosemite National Park on Monday, Aug. 6, 2018. The road was reoponed Friday, Aug. 25. CRAIG KOHLRUSS ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

Prior to the highway’s reopening, Butterfield said the coffee shop would have 10 people come in every hour. Friday morning, he said that number was up to 30. The manager said the losses have been huge, estimating a loss of 60 percent of their expected revenue during the road and Yosemite closures, and he expects the business to recover, but that recovery process could take until next year.

Coarsegold business owners are feeling similar sentiments.

“It’s been really, really tough on all the stores to keep the doors open, with the smoke, and the fires, and nobody on Highway 41,” said Coarsegold native Diane Boland. “You know, we count on all of that to get us through the winter because, you know, our winters are slow up here.”

Boland, 68, is the owner of Coarsegold Historic Village and president of the Coarsegold Peddlers Market and Antique Show that the village hosts twice a year, so the news was especially important to her. The second Peddler’s Market is set to take place Labor Day weekend.

Friday through Monday, the market brings together the village’s 14 small shops, as well as any willing food and street vendors. Antiques, furniture, hand-crafted items, funnel cakes and corn dogs are only a few of the things attendees can expect.

But even with Wawona Road reopening on time, the event is still feeling the impacts of the Ferguson Fire.

“We sometimes have anywhere to 100 vendors. This year, we’ll have maybe 60 vendors,” Boland said. “A lot of people are afraid that the show won’t be great and people won’t be there to support us.”

Boland said these events help many of these owners and vendors pay their rent through the year, so its success is crucial.

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While Wawona Road was reopened on Friday, the entrance into the Valley through Highway 140 (Merced River route) will be closed the entire weekend between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. The road will be opened during the lunch hour each of those days. Some business owners in Mariposa are taking issue with the closing, having dealt with similar losses to the ones being felt by businesses along Highway 41.

Steve Montalto of Visit Yosemite Madera County told the Associated Press he estimated a combined $50 million in tourism losses as a result of the Ferguson Fire.