'Gateway' Communities Gear Up With Full-Service Resorts

As Yosemite tries to keep the tourist impact at a distance, the ring of tiny towns, known as the gateway communities, is suddenly taking on more importance. Residents are worried that the park is moving too fast in reducing the number of people on the valley floor. Without a comprehensive day-use system in place, they say the park will hurt the very towns it will need to accommodate people staying outside the park in the future.

Down in Oakhurst, Calif., the locals are buzzing. The name of one prominent Yosemite memorabilia store may be 'Good Ol' Daze,' but like most of the town, Chamber of Commerce member and owner Chuck Nugent is more concerned about the future. With the gate fee hike to $20, Mr. Nugent's business, a half-hour from the park, has dropped off by 25 percent. The store owner says the cut is mainly from locals who don't want to pay the increase for a quick visit, but also is a result of tourist uncertainty created by Yosemite's devastated campsites.

Nugent points out that the Park Service hasn't yet figured out the details of a shuttle system to accommodate people who stay outside the park. He thinks people will stay away if they believe they can't get in. He's buffered himself from Yosemite's potentially rocky transition into the 21st century by going high-tech. His Web site (www.sierranet.net/net/daze) has created a worldwide customer base, which allows him to say with a smile, "if nobody walks through that door for a whole lot of tomorrows, I'm still OK."

Customers over at Fish Camp's Tenaya Lodge have to actually walk through its doors or there will be no tomorrows. General manager Paul Ratchford led the fight this spring when the Park Service proposed an advance reservation system for cars entering the park. Just prior to opening for the summer, park officials backed off from the idea, but Mr. Ratchford is concerned.

"The gateway communities are vital to accommodate people who want to come but can't stay in the park," he notes, adding that his hotel created a plan to reduce its reliance on Yosemite. "We needed to create a destination here that would allow a family to come and not rely on a visit into Yosemite."

Tenaya's full-service resort concept fits that bill, but Ratchford would like to see the Park Service help the gateway communities. "Our towns provide the core product for people who haven't planned years in advance and who can't pay for the Awahnee," he adds, referring to the pricey Craftsman-style lodge in the heart of the valley.

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