The Salmon Meadows Campground was 50 miles from a wildfire in northern Idaho, but when the national media picked up the story and reported that the fire was near Salmon, instead of pinpointing the fire’s location in the mountains, Sharyn Ward saw her business go up in smoke.
“When it hits the national news, it has a horrific impact,” she said. “Even right now, we’ve heard the fire is about 25 miles away. It’s not even coming in our direction. They continually tell us there is no threat to Salmon. But we have no one explaining that on the national news.”
As a result, Ward said, “There is absolutely no one in our park.”
The national media’s tendency to generalize the location of the western wildfires has been costly for many other campground operators up and down the Continental Divide.
“People have been scared away from the whole western United States,” said Tom Brimacombe, owner of the 127-space Rancheros de Santa Fe Campground in Santa Fe, N.M. “When you’re sitting in New Jersey watching CNN and they talk about how the West is on fire, do you want to go there?
“We haven’t had a fire burning around here since May,” he continued.”But our whole season has been down because of the (national publicity).”
Brimacombe has seen a 5% to 10% drop in his summer business.
However, others were more fortunate.
Michelle Heinbaugh, manager of the 100-space Alpen Rose RV Park in Durango, Colo., reported only a minimal drop in summertime visitors.
“I think there is an effect,” she said, noting recent fires in and around neighboring Mesa Verde National Park. “But it’s minimal. We’ve got horseback riding, jeep touring. And there’s other Aztec ruins they can go to.”
It’s a different story for campgrounds right next to Mesa Verde National Park, where two different fires burned several weeks in July and August, closing the park for days at a time.
“We had $13,000 worth of cancellations,” said Lester Huseby, owner of the 72-space A & A RV Park & Campground.
Meanwhile, Ward, of Salmon Meadows, said her business has been hurt so badly, she’s thinking of closing. “We can’t continually keep our hot water heaters heating (without guests),” she said.