By Kim Weir
Imagine wave after wave of complete strangers pulling up next to your town’s pristine river to unload their camping gear and then settle right in. Even when no camping is allowed. Even when no facilities — not even pit toilets — are available.
When favorite wild places get trampled, becoming de facto garbage dumps and latrines, entire communities sour on even the idea of welcoming visitors.
Which is exactly what happened in parts of Plumas County in late May. Campgrounds weren’t even open, but that didn’t stop people from coming anyway. People from distant cities simply done with being locked down at home due to the coronavirus. People determined to be somewhere else, almost anywhere else, so long as it was outdoors. No matter what anyone else said.
So: Imagine how hard it is to represent for tourism, locally, even though it provides jobs and boosts the economy.
Shelley Hunter, who owns the Quincy Feather Bed Inn, can tell you all about the challenges.
Unlike other California businesses, the Feather Bed Inn never had to close due to COVID-19 concerns, not technically. There was no need.
“Without even the Health Department saying anything, everybody just started canceling their reservations. It’s not like we were closed, but we didn’t have any guests,” she says.
And suddenly, instead of cash coming in, lots of money went out as refunds, sometimes for reservations made a year or more before. Hunter feels fortunate that barely two months after opening again, the inn is almost back in the black.
“People started coming up. Instead of planning in advance, people would just be on their way up here and ask if we had a room.”
Or they’d just show up. Either way, Hunter says, visitors are helping them cover their overhead.
“I feel lucky that we can do that. So, it’s been great, since we’ve been allowed to open. Because we depend on tourists.”
Quincy has been hit hard by the rolling impacts of the coronavirus crisis — the college suddenly closed, iconic events canceled, weddings called off, businesses shuttered. If visitors come, Hunter says, it will help the community.
“All the townspeople ask, all that businesses ask, is that you wear a mask,” she said. “If you don’t have a mask, many businesses already have masks for you. We just want to stay safe. We want to be alive to open again next year. Bring your masks. Keep your distance. It’s not that hard.”
Sharon Roberts runs the St. Bernard Lodge in Millville, just outside Plumas County, on the road to Lassen Volcanic National Park and the Chester-Lake Almanor area — the other side of the county, essentially. She agrees on the fundamentals of respectful visitor behavior, including traveling with a mask.
“And when they come into a building, they put their face masks on prior to entering any of our businesses or lodging establishments,” she said. “But once you’re outside, as long as you’re social distancing, you’re fine.”
In addition to these basic rules of the road for visitors in remote California places, Roberts would add another:
“People who are coming up to camp, please respect the regulations concerning campfires, which are permitted in established campsites,” she said. “But if you’re boondock camping, don’t plan on doing a campfire. We don’t want to have any wildfires this summer.”
Both Roberts and Hunter do want people to come, to enjoy Plumas County’s truly great outdoors, as long as they’re responsible and respectful.
Among the wonders awaiting visitors on a trip to Plumas County: One of the nation’s most spectacular, if least visited, national parks, with 150 miles of good hiking trails, including a nice stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail. National forests, state parks. A gorgeous lake in the awesome shadow of Mount Lassen, perfect for sailing, kayaking, and paddle boarding. Scenic Feather River Canyon. And the Graeagle area, near the Lakes Basin. Best of all, Plumas County’s visitor season extends well into autumn, with impressive fall color that typically peaks in mid-October.
For travel details, the best information sources are the Chester Chamber of Commerce and the old county visitor bureau site, the online Plumas County Visitor Guide, now maintained by local businesses. The Shasta Cascade Wonderland Association is also a good regional resource.
This story comes from our collaboration with CapRadio in Sacramento. Find more stories at capradio/rural-reporting-project.