Yosemite: No additional campsites to open until after July

Concerned about the growing numbers of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in California and other parts of the nation, officials at Yosemite National Park have decided not to open any more campgrounds until at least after July 31.

Following some confusion in media reports Tuesday, parks officials confirmed that the two campgrounds that are already open in the storied Sierra Nevada park will remain open. Those are Upper Pines, in Yosemite Valley, which is operating at 50% of capacity for social distancing, and Wawona Horse Camp, in the southern part of the park.

“All campgrounds inside Yosemite National Park that are currently open will remain open,” said Jamie Richards, a Yosemite spokeswoman. “The campground closures that are currently in place will remain in place.”

Both opened on June 11, when Yosemite reopened its doors after being closed for nearly three months, the longest such closure in park history.

The Yosemite Valley Lodge and Ahwahnee Hotel remain open, as do restaurants and gift shops. Shuttle buses are not running. The park has required visitors to make a reservation to come into the park for the day if they do not have overnight reservations there, as a way to keep overall park attendance at about 50% of normal during the pandemic. Visitors are encouraged, but not required, to wear masks, and most parks employees are wearing masks.

The confusion Tuesday occurred after a Yosemite official sent out an email notice to people who had previously made reservations in some of the park’s other campgrounds announcing that those reservations have been cancelled through July 31 because of  “continued concerns and restrictions we are facing due to COVID-19.”

Eric Bissmeyer, the park’s campground manager, noted that campgrounds like Tuolumne Meadows, Crane Flat, Lower Pines and North Pines would remain closed. Every year people make reservations months in advance.

“We understand this is frustrating, even heart-breaking news,” he wrote. “As ever, we appreciate your patience as we navigate through these challenging times.”

Park officials had never reopened those campgrounds, although they were leaving the option for June and July. Some media reports Tuesday, particularly headlines on websites, gave the incorrect impression that Yosemite was closing all of its campgrounds, including the two that had already opened and which remain open.

Kevin Cann, chairman of the Mariposa County Board of Supervisors, said Tuesday that park leaders decided not to open any additional campsites in June or July because of concerns about the growing numbers of COVID-19 cases in society. Cann said there have been no cases of COVID-19 in the park, and things have been running smoothly.

“We don’t have an outbreak,” he said. “It seems they got a little spooked about the growing number of positive cases in the counties where these visitors are coming from.”

Cann said he has noticed that most visitors in the park are wearing masks. He also noted that the Mariposa County health officer required the park’s concession company to leave each hotel room in the park vacant for 24 hours after guests check out before cleaning the room, as an added precaution. Hotels and campgrounds outside the park remain open.

Many of the park’s most scenic areas, from Glacier Point to Tuolumne Meadows, have had very few visitors during the park’s first two weeks, he noted, which is unheard of during summer months.

“If you come to the park now are going to get the experience of a lifetime,” he said. “We’re feeling pretty good about it.”

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Author: Paul Rogers