I've Been to Yosemite, Now What? Increase Travel to Yosemite to Bring Increased Visitors to Gateway Communities

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The warming weather promises to bring more travelers to Yosemite National Park. Travelers through California's Gateway to Yosemite often find themselves surprised about what the region has to offer. Madera County, home to the iconic park's most popular entrance, is an attraction in its own right.

Wineries in Madera County, such as Westbrook Wine Farm in O'Neals, have a rich tradition.

People are surprised how much there is to see and do in the surrounding ‘gateway communities,’

Yosemite National Park is one of the most popular attractions in all of the United States, if not world. Park officials counted 3.9 million people who visited this iconic park. However, many people find themselves exploring the myriad of activities and attractions that reside in the gateway communities.

Now that spring weather has finally arrived, travel to the park will increase sharply. Much of the park's visitation comes in the spring and summer season. That increased traffic to the park is already beginning to be seen in the gateway communities.

There is no doubt that Yosemite National Park is a top attraction. The rock formations inspire awe in Mother Nature. “El Capitan is the largest granite monolith in the world, and people want to come here and be amazed by the towering peaks and granite,” said Kari Cobb with the National Park Service. “We estimate that 98 percent of our visitors never leave Yosemite Valley and one of the reasons for that is the number of waterfalls that spill over the valley rim in to the valley,” she said.

Many people include Yosemite as part of a large vacation, touring the region. Dan Cunning, CEO of the Yosemite Sierra Visitors Bureau, which promotes Madera County, California’s Gateway to Yosemite, their visitor center receives a lot of guests who come in asking “What now?”

“We see so many people who come here because of Yosemite. We see a lot, however, who come in after they’ve left the park. They ask us, I’ve been to Yosemite, what else should I see,” said Cunning.

According to Cunning, those people do not go away disappointed. “People are surprised how much there is to see and do in the surrounding ‘gateway communities,’” he said. “Madera County has numerous museums, wineries, fine dining and so much more for people to see and enjoy. A lot of people come through here for Yosemite, but they discover a destination in its own right in Madera County.”

Madera County is located in the center of California. In fact, one community, North Fork, is listed as the exact center of the state. “North Fork is ‘In the middle of it all,’ we say,” said Cunning.

The region also serves as a microcosm for the state itself. The western part of the county is agricultural in nature, with numerous farms growing a substantial amount of the produce consumed by Americans. Nuts, fruits and more are all grown in Madera County, and the agricultural aspect now breeds a tourism product as well. “More than 70 percent of all wine that comes from the United States comes from California’s central valley, which includes Madera County,” said Darren Schmall, who runs Appellation California, a wine tasting room in the county seat of Madera. “A lot of people don’t realize that so much wine comes from this region. They think of Napa or Sonoma, but Madera County truly has a rich and diverse wine background,” he said.

That tradition has given birth to the Madera Wine Trail, (http://www.maderawinetrail.com), one of the most popular attractions in Madera County. Composed of 11 wineries, the wine trail gives enthusiasts a chance to meet personally with the vintners, and learn about the dedication and love that goes in to each vintage, according to Madera Vintners Association past president Ray Krause. “It’s like going in to the vintner’s home because this is our lives, not just a living,” said Krause, who, along with this wife Tammy, own and operate Westbrook Wine Farm and Farview Farm Vineyard.

“What sets us apart from other wine venues is the family nature of our wineries and the touring wine lover getting to meet the people that have their arms in the grapes,” he said.

A lot of people are also taken aback by the sheer number of wines and varieties produced along the trail. From world recognized desert wines from Ficklin and Quady Wineries, to the merlots from Idle Hour Winery in Oakhurst or the award winning Syrah from Birdstone Winery in Madera or even the blended wines crafted in the Claret style at Krause’s Westbrook Wine Farm in O’Neals, wine drinkers are often times impressed with their selection. “The incredible diversity of wines and wine styles is unparalleled anywhere else,” said Krause.

There are also numerous museums throughout the region, such as the Madera County History Museum which resides in the old courthouse in Madera and details the city when it served as a collecting point for lumber cut from the Sierra Nevada. “It represents the culture of Madera and where it came from. The upper floor is the original court room, and the rest of the rooms are representative of the rooms of a home from the late 1800s,” said Sheryl Berry, president of the Madera County Historical Society.

Another museum will be opening this spring in Chowchilla, the other incorporated community of Madera County. The Fossil Discovery Center rests at one of the largest Pleistocene era fossil beds in the country. The FDC will have on display the remains of numerous animals, such as wooly mammoths and saber toothed cats. http://www.maderamammoths.org/

The Consortium of Southern Yosemite Museums is a group of nine facilities throughout eastern Madera County. “Hundreds of years of history are represented in those museums,” said Cunning. The Coarsegold Historic Museum is located in a 110 year old building housing artifacts from as early as the 1800s and details life in the region from miners to the native Chukchansi tribe.

The Sierra Mono Indian Museum in North Fork preserves the culture of the Mono tribe. Inside are baskets, photos and other cultural items, as well as over 100 freestanding preserved animals from North America and Asia.

The King Vintage Museum in Oakhurst displays clothing from eras long gone. Dresses, hats and more range from the early 1900’s to items as far back as the 1700’s. Currently through March, the King Vintage Museum is playing host to the traveling Abraham Lincoln: Self Made in America exhibit. Only four communities in California were able to host the exhibit.

Art galleries can also be found throughout Madera County. “The region has a very health art community,” said Cunning. “The natural beauty of Yosemite all the way down to the valley has served as inspiration for countless painters, sculptors, photographers and more,” he said.

The best way to explore everything is to embark on the Sierra Art Trail. Nearly 100 artists are highlighted in nearly every medium imaginable. While the actual event runs September 4 through October 4 this year, museums and galleries are open year round. http://www.sierraarttrails.org.

Lodging options abound as well, as the region offers everything from cozy bed and breakfasts to luxurious, lake front resorts. “We have an excellent amount of variety,” said Cunning. “For the budget conscious family looking to go on vacation for less, to the traveler seeking a romantic getaway who would like the privacy and comforts of a vacation rental home, Madera County has it all.”

Dining is not in short supply either. Oakhurst is home to the regions only five start restaurants, Erna’s Elderberry House. The owners of The Vineyard, a popular fine dining restaurant in Madera, were recently honored with a lifetime achievement award from the California Restaurant Association. The numerous options in Madera County are sure to satisfy any pallet searching for any type of cuisine.

“Madera County truly is an amazing destination,” said Cunning. “The events, the culture, the sights, they all make for truly magnificent vacations.”

For more information: http://www.YosemiteThisYear.com, or http://www.facebook.com/yosemitesierra.

Madera County Basics: The county is nearly 2,150 square miles just north of Fresno, and south of one of the most popular entrances in to Yosemite, Highway 41’s south entrance. The county stretches from the San Joaquin Valley to the crest of the Sierra Nevada, the highest mountains in the contiguous United States. Bordered on the north by the Chowchilla River and on the south by the San Joaquin River, the County includes some of the richest agricultural land in the nation. Madera County Communities: Ahwahnee, Bass Lake, Chowchilla, Coarseold, Madera, Madera Ranchos, North Fork, Oakhurst, O’Neals and Raymond.

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