One of our favorite activities living in Fresno has been to take the short drive up to Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks and hike the many trails through the ancient mountain forests. In less than an hour’s drive east, we are at the park gate and have the freedom (and privilege!) to walk amongst giant 2000+ year-old trees and explore fern-carpeted, dogwood-studded habitats unlike any others on the planet.
In an article published in The Fresno Bee on Friday, reporter Mark Grossi quotes social scientist Jim Gramann, a Texas A&M University professor working temporarily with the park service as saying, “…many studies show that people save money by going to national parks in bad times.”
Well, even when times were booming and amid dreams about retiring early with all the equity we were accumulating in our home (ha!), we were season pass holders and visited the parks many times a year.
But facts are facts. Yosemite National Park, also close to Fresno at just over an hour and a half away, did enjoy a nearly 9% jump in attendance in 2009 when compared to 2008. At 3.86 million visitors, park spokeman Scott Gediman was quoted in The Bee article as saying, “I would not be surprised if we’re back up to 4 million visitors in 2010.” He was referring to Yosemite’s numbers from the 1990s, and the park’s record number of 4.19 million visitors in 1996.
Now here is the million-dollar question: Is Fresno capitalizing on what many have suggested before about linking its marketing to these national parks and promoting itself as a great place to spend an extra day or so? Well, yes and no.
Travelers who arrive at our airport – strategically named “Fresno Yosemite International”- find themselves in the midst of a million-dollar collection of very well-done recreations of Giant Sequoia trees before they go to retrieve their bags or meet their ride at the terminal curb. This would seem to indicate that our City leaders understand the importance of that identity, but what are we doing once the visitor leaves the artificial forest?
Fresno must encourage areas of interest to tourists as hubs of activity. The Tower District immediately comes to mind as the closest thing we currently have to a trendy nightlife spot, with cozy dining and performance venues that could very easily provide a must-visit for the traveler with just a little more support and focus from City Hall. While street planting has recently been upgraded, adding other distinctive touches such as faux stone walkways, Olive Avenue cobblestone, water features and quaint lighting fixtures would go a long way to help solidify the identity of this unique Fresno neighborhood.
As our City contemplates other locations in which to concentrate tourist-attracting amenities, it would also be wise to emulate what so many great cities of the world have known for centuries: center such activities along, or overlooking, the local river. From the Seine in Paris, the Thames in London, the Mississippi in New Orleans and the Potomac in our nation’s capitol, people are drawn to flowing water. Arts, culture and science often rise along the banks of rivers and with millions of federal and state dollars being pumped into the restoration of the San Joaquin River through Fresno, it will make sense in the future to provide our regional tourists a place to connect with our Valley’s namesake waterway.