Mount Shasta icon Dr. Jim Parker could never have predicted a scenario like the one we face in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Jim's son, Dr. Nate Parker, said although his dad would have been saddened to know that this year's Fourth of July Walk/Run – an event he founded in 1980 – has been canceled, “he was a doctor first and foremost and he would have made the same difficult decision in order to protect the health of the community.”
Mount Shasta icon Dr. Jim Parker could never have predicted a scenario like the one we face in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Jim’s son, Dr. Nate Parker, said although his dad would have been saddened to know that this year’s Fourth of July Walk/Run – an event he founded in 1980 – has been canceled, “he was a doctor first and foremost and he would have made the same difficult decision in order to protect the health of the community.”
Siskiyou County business owners are lamenting the cancelation of the 40th annual Walk/Run, which attracts between 2,500 and 5,000 people to town, depending on when the holiday hits during the week. This year would have been a big one, as the fourth falls on a Saturday, said Mount Shasta Chamber Executive Director Kaila Burns.
Instead of an in-person race, Mountain Runners has planned a virtual event to get people in the patriotic spirit. But that’s little consolation for gift shops, restaurants, art galleries and hotels that generally count the July 4 weekend as one of the busiest of the year.
Also due to COVID-19 concerns, the decision was made to eliminate the traditional parade on Mt. Shasta Boulevard, as well as the vendor fair and the beloved fireworks show over Lake Siskiyou, which is viewed by thousands of people at different points around the lake and town.
In 2019, 578 people stopped in at the Mount Shasta Visitor’s Center between July 4 and 7.
“The Fourth of July ... is Mount Shasta’s biggest event of the year and it’s important for the city and all the downtown businesses,” said Burns. “We are sad to cancel festivities, but we had to put the health and safety of our local residents first.”
Dr. Jim Parker died from ALS on July 7, 2014 days after being honored as Grand Marshal in the parade and walking the 2-mile race route wearing bib No. 1.
Parker’s son, Nate, has followed in his father’s footsteps and now works in the emergency department at Mercy Medical Center Mt. Shasta. He said his dad was well aware of the economic benefits the race brings to the City of Mt. Shasta each summer.
Hotels in Mount Shasta are generally booked by this time. Burns said the Inn at Mt. Shasta has only one reservation for July 4; the rest canceled. The Best Western Tree House has 17 rooms booked.
The only place that is fully booked for the holiday is the Lake Siskiyou Camp Resort, where all RV spots and cabins are reserved, Burns said.
Despite encouragement from public health officials to refrain from travel, Mount Shasta has already seen visitors from out of the area, particularly around Memorial Day. Chuck Mahan, owner of Pancho and Lefkowitz in the heart of town, said he’s seen more out of towners than ever before.
“You kind of know when someone’s not from around here,” commented Mahan, who knows the majority of his customers either by name or by their face.
Matt Doyle, general manager of Lake Shasta Caverns, believes families that have been cooped up under stay-at-home orders will be eager to get to vacations.
“We are going to have a massive draw up here once it’s released,” Doyle said of the governor’s restrictions on businesses like his. “The second we open up, we are going to be flooded.”
The caverns, which wind deep into the limestone mountains around Lake Shasta, rely heavily on tourists from outside Shasta County. The caverns, though, have been closed since March 19.
Megan Peterson, a spokeswoman for the Siskiyou Economic Development Council, said her organization is promoting activities that take advantage of the area’s wide open spaces.
There are several remote, but wide and well-maintained state highways – such as highways 96, 97, 3, 89 and 139 – that are excellent for RV and motorcycle touring, she said. And Siskiyou County has numerous wilderness areas where people also can get out and practice social distancing.
There are also numerous waterfalls in Siskiyou County that draw thousands of visitors annually, including the three McCloud falls, Hedge Creek Falls, Sweetbrier Falls and Faery Falls.
Like the rest of the region, Siskiyou County tourism has suffered because of COVID-19, Peterson said.
State officials expect to lose about $72.1 billion in visitor spending in 2020 due to the virus. That is about half of the money generated in 2019, officials said.
“The data show just how vital tourism is to the California economy and why it must be restored when we control and ultimately overcome this deadly outbreak,” said Caroline Beteta, president and CEO of Visit California, said in a statement.
Laurie Baker, CEO of the Shasta-Cascade Wonderland Association, said the tourism industry will take a hit because of coronavirus restrictions. But she also thinks it will bounce back.
“We think there is a lot of pent up demand for people who want to get away,” said Baker, whose organization promotes tourism in eight Northern California counties.
Travel and tourism is a major component of the North State’s economy. People who traveled and stayed at hotels, campgrounds and other lodgings generated about $1.6 billion in the Shasta-Cascade region’s eight counties, according to Visit California, a marketing agency for the state’s tourism industry.
“It’s (tourism) totally important. It’s one of our major industries up here,” said Doyle, who also is on the Shasta-Cascade Wonderland Association board of directors.
With little manufacturing in the region and the timber industry no longer the major employer it was decades ago, the economic driver remains tourism and travel, he said.
Travel generated about $128.6 million in tax revenue and 16,326 jobs in the eight-county Shasta-Cascade region, visit California said.
“It really supports our standard of living and helps improve our standard of living,” Baker said.
While the dark clouds of loss hang over much of California’s tourism industry, there are pockets of travel sunshine in the Golden State.
For two months in a row, the number of visitors to Whiskeytown National Recreation Area outside Redding has been up over the same time in 2019.
“We are well above normal,” said Josh Hoines, superintendent at Whiskeytown. And people can visit the area safely. “There’s a lot of space for people to spread out around here,” he said.
The number of visitors to Whiskeytown in April was 105,425, more than double the average number of visitors for April, he said. Whiskeytown visitation was 13% above average in March, he said.
Whiskeytown visitors are likely looking to escape from being holed up at home during the governor’s stay-at-home order, while the kids are home from school and many people are out of work, he said.
Tucked in Gov. Gavin Newsom’s March 19 stay-at-home order were encouraging words for residents to get outdoors for recreation, as long as people remembered social distancing.
“It’s OK to go outside to go for a walk, to exercise, and participate in healthy activities as long as you maintain a safe physical distance of six feet and gather only with members of your household,” the governor’s order says.
State officials are still discouraging travel, however. Baker and others in the industry said once the travel restriction is lifted, the tourism industry will pick up again.
“We are going to take a hit. We are going to have less than we used to, but we’ll recover,” she said.
Because tourism is a labor-intensive economic sector, it can create jobs faster than other sectors of the economy, Visit California officials said. While overall California employment fell 8.6% during the Great Recession, jobs dipped only 5.6%.
“Tourism in California will rebound, because it always has – after earthquakes, wildfires, the 9/11 terrorist attacks or economic crisis,” Visit California’s Beteta said.
Damon Arthur is the Record Searchlight’s resources and environment reporter.
Skye Kinkade is the editor of the Mt. Shasta Area Newspapers and the Siskiyou Daily News.