Yosemite collaborating with gateway communities amid COVID-19 crisis

Officials in Mariposa and Madera counties now say the economic impact of the ongoing Yosemite National Park closure and 'stay at home' orders is worse than any other disasters they've endured.

However, they're also concerned about tourists bringing COVID-19 into their communities.

Yosemite spokesperson Scott Gediman says work is underway on a phased re-opening plan that will follow federal and state directives, but there's no word yet on when it will go into effect.

Meanwhile, the park continues to work closely with all of the surrounding counties that have been hit hard by the shutdown.

Mariposa County Supervisor Kevin Cann confirms, "The park is committed to coordinating 100% with the Gateways."

Cann says that collaboration will help everyone move forward together, but the economic consequences of the closure are already more devastating than other disasters in recent decades.

He explains, "The fires, the floods, the rock falls, there's always an end to it and the end is a month away, a week away. And this is almost like the government shutdowns, except it's worse because the businesses can't even be open for locals."

Happy Burger Diner has been closed for more than a month now after recently celebrating 25 years in a prime location off Highway 140.

It's owned by Dianne and Greg Fritz. Dianne says, "With the National Park closed, that's really, really tough for us."
She says so far they have not received any of the relief funding they've applied for despite missing out on thousands of dollars a day.

She's thankful for efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19 but worries about what will happen if the closure continues much longer.

She explains, "Our summer season is what gets us through the winter season, and without summer that's when a lot of us will really have amazing difficulties."

Madera County is dealing with similar hardships.

Officials say they're looking for ways to allow more businesses to begin opening with social distancing, but many also rely on tourists.

That includes the owner of California Redwood Signs in Oakhurst.

Mike Stephany is normally busy carving unique items to catch the eye of customers at fairs and people passing through town, but now he's just waiting for Yosemite signs to say 'open.'

Stephany says, "As soon as they can get the park open I think we'll be okay because a lot of people will be going up to the park, because they can't go anywhere else really. So we're ready to open up right now."
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