The 100th birthday of the National Park Service is driving an increase in park visitors, and that means a spike for Three Rivers businesses, especially those that cater to tourists. First quarter numbers showed that park visitation was up 15 percent; now summer visitors are flocking to Kaweah Country in even greater numbers, traveling from near and far.
Local businesses are benefiting from increased tourism, publicity from wildlife sightings, and a more normal river that has brought the best rafting season in five years. Setbacks resulting from last summer’s Rough Fire are in the rearview mirror now as visitors also are returning to Kings Canyon National Park and its area attractions: Grant Grove, Cedar Grove, Hume Lake, Converse Basin, Big Meadows, and all the popular attractions that were closed for much of the summer season because of wildland fire.
Many Kings Canyon visitors drive through Three Rivers and many a night or two so they can also visit the Sequoia Park attractions.
At Pizza Factory in Three Rivers, a non-stop steady stream of customers means waiting 30 minutes on weekdays and up to an hour on weekends for that piping hot pizza.
“We are very busy with international tourists, especially from Asia and Europe,” said Janet Botello, manager. “We have a lot of visitors from all over the U.S. as well. When we get both, we are slammed.”
Leah Schwarz at Casa Mendoza echoed the sentiment, claiming this has been the restaurant’s busiest year ever. Steady afternoon business builds to a fever pitch at night as park visitors return to Three Rivers from a day of sightseeing.
Maureen Landry of Log House Lodge, perhaps half-joking, admitted considering an increase in price to meet demand.
“It’s been an incredibly good summer,” she said. “I’m even busier than I like to be. We have seen mainly American tourists but expect more Europeans in August and September.”
Lesa Jones of the Sierra Lodge reported that 94 percent of her guests were from outside the country.
“We are serving many tourists from Israel and Spain in July, she said. “In August, we expect to see more Dutch.”
Cindy Almarez of Totem Market mentioned her customers are reflecting even more diversity, and that recent patrons have been from France, Germany, and the Philippines.
Holly Radmacher, owner of Kaweah River Trading Co., said this summer is already more promising than last year’s because the Rough Fire interrupted what was shaping up as profitable 2015 season.
Holly has noticed that foreign and domestic tourists are opting for souvenirs made by Three Rivers artists.
“We strive to offer one-of-a-kind Kaweah Country memorabilia, which can catch some visitors off guard,” she said.
In addition to resuming customer appreciation nights in August, Holly has big plans for September.
“We will be offering a space for a variety of classes focusing on movement, fitness, meditation, and more,” she reported. “At the end of the busy summer season, small businesses usually need to shift gears and return their focus to the needs of locals.”
And in keeping with the focus on local customers and year-round business, Village Market now offers a 10 percent discount to all Three Rivers residents. Show identification and let the checker know you want the local discount. Once they get to know you id. not required.