Drought impact on mountain tourism

Lake Isabella, Kernville, and Alta Sierra have visible effects of the drought. Business owners say it's the worst start to the winter season in decades.
LAKE ISABELLA, CA - California's lack of rain is taking away tourism dollars from mountain communities that rely on snowfall. While ski slopes are empty now, the real fear is what will happen in the spring.

On Monday, fishermen said this is the furthest they've driven out in years to set up lines in Lake Isabella.

"You'd be underwater right here," said fisherman James Travis. "All my life, I've been up here fishing and this lake used to be completely full. It's down quite a bit."

"Fishing, believe it or not, has really picked up," said Bernie Allen, who was fishing for crappie. "Usually, it doesn't. When a lake drops a lot, then there's no place for the small fish to hide. So, the big fish start eating the small fish."

Further up the mountain, Alta Sierra's ski slopes are dry and deserted. Local business owners said January is always the slowest tourism month, but a lack of snow will also mean fewer rafting and boating days this spring.

"Oh yeah, we're very nervous," said Kernville's Sierra South Mountain Sports owner Tom Moore. "Currently for December and January, it's been one of the worst starts to winter ever."

Cheryl's Diner sees steady customers on weekends, but they're not serving up hot cocoa to the snow tourists. Instead, it's iced tea to the hikers and antique shoppers.

"It has a huge impact on all of us in this business of taking the people out and having a good time in the Kern River Valley or feeding them when they're done having fun on the river," said diner manager Sandi Johnstone.

Locals insist you can still find interesting things to do in low water.

"Last year was the first year we got into tubing," said Moore. "So, we have some really ultimate tubes. Stand-up paddle boarding on the lake is popular."

Johnstone said customers are in town for motorcycle riding and day hikes since most of the trails are still open.

Local businesses said the best time to come up this year is earlier in spring when the water level will be higher, but they're still hoping for rain in February.

Next month, Whiskey Flat Days kicks off Kernville's rafting season and business owners believe it should still be a decent season.
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