Central Valley tourism industry expecting big boost from California reopening

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OAKHURST, California (KGPE/KSEE) — California reopened its economy and lifted most COVID-19 restrictions on June 15, a long-awaited moment for Central Valley businesses reliant on tourism.

“Hopefully more travelers will feel comfortable coming to our outdoor spaces in Madera County, and coming to our restaurants, wine bars, distilleries,” said Brooke Smith of Visit Yosemite. “Everyone is reopening, all of our businesses that spent most of last year closed.”

According to the economic impact report from Visit California, travel-related spending in 2020 dropped by nearly 50% in Madera County.  The previous year, tourism accounted for $355 million in the county’s economy, with $31.1 million in state and local tax revenue. The industry also boasted 4,300 jobs in 2019, dropping to 3,800 in 2020.

Smith says Madera saw a decline in visitors when Yosemite National Park implemented its day-use reservation program. Reservations are still required through Sept. 30, but the Oakhurst community is expecting more travel as restrictions expire and vaccination rates continue to increase.  

While many closed their storefronts in 2020 though, two entrepreneurs saw the pandemic as an opportunity to venture into new paths.

“We opened up our business because we lost our jobs due to COVID. We were from the hotel industry,” said Mike Broderick, co-owner of Pedal Forward Bikes and Adventure in Oakhurst. “We opened in September. It was when the Creek fire was raging, and obviously during the pandemic.”

Broderick shares that he and his business partner were preoccupied with their store’s survival, but they’re hoping for a busy summer to make up for last year’s hurdles.

“In life when the trail gets rough you can either stop, coast or pedal forward. And that’s what we do here at Pedal Forward Bikes and Adventure,” he said.

Neighboring tourist attraction Yosemite Axe is also gearing up for more foot traffic after California’s reopening.

The business settled in Oakhurst in December 2019 and operated during the pandemic with restrictions. Employees say it’s been a perfect venue to let off some steam at a time of heightened uncertainty and anxiety. 

“It’s a really good stress relief, throwing some axes. People really enjoy it,” said Mike Sliffe of Yosemite Axe.

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