Wildfire rattles northern Arizona tourism - East Valley Tribune: Arizona

Wildfire rattles northern Arizona tourism

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Posted: Friday, June 23, 2006 8:40 am | Updated: 4:34 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Slide Rock State Park is closed indefinitely. The Arizona Snowbowl Skyride is completely shut down. St. Joseph's Youth Camp is canceled until July. Northern Arizona businesses are attempting to stay afloat as some of the area's most popular attractions are having to turn away Valley visitors.

Slide Rock, the popular getaway that normally attracts 2,500 people a day in the summer, will be closed until danger from the Brins fire lessens. On Thursday, crews fought to beat back the blaze that crept within a half-mile of the park.

"It will definitely impact the state park system," said Ellen Bilbrey, state parks public information officer.

"People are going to be clamoring to go up there and swim."

The Arizona Snowbowl Skyride, which shuttles visitors to the top of a volcano, has been closed until the forest sees more rain.

"It's going to have a huge effect," said marketing director David Smith. "We'll go from having revenue to no revenue."

Smith said the summer was going well, but with the closure of the entire Coconino National Forest, Snowbowl will have to lay off some employees.

The St. Joseph's Youth Camp, sponsored by the Knights of Columbus near Mormon Lake, has canceled its sessions through July 8.

Jan Stockman, member of the Phoenix-based Arizona Outdoor Travel Club, said the forest closures and fire restrictions will affect the club's weekly hikes.

"We try to find other hikes" when the forests close, she said.

All three camps in the Boy Scout Grand Canyon Council will stay open this summer, but campfire bans will be enforced, said council director Larry Abbott. Camp Raymond, near Flagstaff, is surrounded by forest land, but the Boy Scout camp is privately owned and can stay open.

Meanwhile, Sedona merchants are trying to spread the word that the city is open for business.

The city, famous for its red rocks and starry skies, attracts 2 million to 4 million tourists a year, according to the city's Web site. Many of those tourists are Valley residents escaping the heat or showing off the natural beauty to visitors.

"People are calling, and they're concerned because it sounds like the whole town's on fire," said Rebecca Donohue, manager for Great West Adventure Co. in Sedona. "They're getting the wrong impression. Everything's still up and running for the most part."

Hardest hit will be companies like A Day in the West, which offers Jeep and horseback tours through the signature Red Rock canyons in the Coconino National Forest, whose 1.8 million acres are now off limits.

Rob DeMayo, marketing director for the company, said it was already struggling through the drop-off in business caused by the roadwork.

"We were hoping the Fourth of July would really pick us up," DeMayo said. "With the forest being closed it's really going to hit us in the pocket. We hope folks won't be scared away."

A similar tour company, Pink Jeep Tours, has a backup plan.

The company, famous for its bumpy, four-wheel drive jaunts in the forest, instead will offer "smooth-ride" options that highlight the city and canyons farther from the fire.

"We make a strategic plan economically to make sure we have funds and backing for a forest service closure," said Pink Jeep Tours owner Shawn Wendell. "The main thing is being able to keep all the employees."

Tony Church, a tourist from Bonita Springs, Fla., said he planned his trip to Sedona before the fire broke out. Church said he likes to hike in the Coconino canyons, but with the closures will be stuck in town this trip.

While that gives him more time for shopping, that does not mean he will be spending more money, he said.

"Typically when we come here we hike in the morning because of the heat and do our shopping in the afternoon," Church said. "I'm sure a lot of people who come for the campgrounds, they're just totally shot. They don't have anything to do."

To remedy the no-hiking blues, the city's main tourism Web site, www.visitsedona.com, listed "102 things to do" in Sedona during the fire. The list included hiking, visiting state parks and shopping.

It also mentioned some quirkier choices, such as "try a vortex pizza" and "get your aura photographed."

Sedona Chamber of Commerce Chairman Joel Gilgoff said the air has been smoky in the morning, so visitors should come in the afternoon, after the breeze has cleared the air.

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