SAN FRANCISCO – Yosemite National Park will reopen Tuesday, 14 days after a wildfire choked the park with smoke at the peak of tourist season, officials said Friday.
“This is truly a historic and unprecedented event in park history, and we are thrilled to welcome back visitors to Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove,” said Michael Reynolds, the park’s superintendent.
Visitors should expect limited hours and visitor services as the park returns to normal, spokesman Scott Gediman said. “Park visitors should be aware that there is still active fire and smoke on the roads, and people should drive with extreme caution,” he said.
The scenic Yosemite Valley, 350 campsites and all the park hotels have been closed since July 25. Officials also declared a half-dozen other sites off-limits, including the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias, Tunnel View (a scenic spot on California Route 41) and Glacier Point Road.
The Mariposa Grove will reopen Monday. But Tunnel View and Glacier Point Road will remain closed as fire crews continue to battle the wildfire.
Though the blaze didn’t reach the heart of the valley, it burned in remote areas of the park about 250 miles (400 kilometres) from San Francisco, making roads inaccessible and polluting the air with smoke.
The 150-square mile (388-square kilometre) fire that started on July 13 was 80 per cent contained Friday.
This week, 200 park workers who live in Yosemite’s popular Valley region were allowed to return, and officials lifted most mandatory evacuation orders for nearby communities.
But the park’s air remains hazy. Time-lapse video by the Yosemite Conservancy, a group that supports the park, shows smoke enveloping and partly obscuring Half Dome, an iconic rock formation.
The closure has dealt a financial blow to Yosemite and gateway communities like Oakhurst and Mariposa at the height of the summer season and caused upheaval for thousands of tourists whose summer trips were cancelled.
Tourists wanting to visit Yosemite, a crown jewel of the National Park System, have to book nearly a year ahead of time to secure a coveted hotel room inside the park, where hotels and campsites fill up months in advance and are typically booked through October.
It is Yosemite’s longest and most extensive closure since 1997, when floods shut the park for two months, officials said.