- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 27, 2018

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - Amanda’s Jemez Mountain Country Store is the place for vacationers to find everything from cold drinks and potted meats to fishing rods and postcards. And summer is the time owner Raymond Andersen and other businesses in the area reap the revenue that helps sustain them through the quiet winter months.

But business, Andersen says, has been disappointing, because of the closure of the Santa Fe National Forest, now in its fourth week.

While Andersen and others in the Jemez understand the threat of wildfire and the need to close the forest temporarily to public use, the economic pinch is real.

“It’s devastating to all businesses up here,” he said. “June is an important month for this particular store, as are all the summer months. We’re probably doing about 20 percent of our normal business this time of year.”

The closure, prompted by a high risk of fire in the 1.6 million-acre forest, may last another month, according to officials with the forest and the National Weather Service. Although the likelihood of an average or above-average monsoon season with substantial rainfall is high, the forest needs a lot of moisture before authorities with the U.S. Forest Service consider reopening the forest.

“It’s weeks, a few weeks,” said Bruce Hill, spokesman for the Santa Fe National Forest. “We’re looking along the line of a few weeks of consistent rain and limited dry spells in between, and they have to be very short.”

That means the forest may remain closed until the last week of July or the first week of August, based on the monsoon forecast by the National Weather Service office in Albuquerque.

“We are expecting a fairly robust monsoon season this year,” said Clay Anderson, a senior forecaster with the weather service. “If it’s true they need several weeks, meaning three, of decent rain . they wouldn’t be looking at opening those forests before the end of July.”

An early start in June to the monsoon rains “is still on the table,” Anderson said. “But there’s no reason to believe there’ll be a late onset; it’s an average or slightly early onset at this point.”

The monsoon, which brings moisture from the eastern Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of California and the Gulf of Mexico, usually lasts into September. Average rainfall can measure from 1½ inches per month in the Santa Fe foothills to several inches per month in higher elevations, Anderson said.

A wet monsoon is due. The most recent noteworthy season occurred in 2013, and before that in 2006, he said.

The economic impact from the Santa Fe National Forest is substantial. It generates more than 193,000 jobs, according to a 2016 forest planning document, and visitors accounted for more than $65 million in spending during 2014.

But not all businesses are suffering from the closure. Tanya Struble, co-owner of the Jemez Hot Springs in the heart of Jemez Springs, said Friday that visits to the soaking pools are up.

“We’re doing really well,” she said, adding that lodging and restaurants in the village “are taking a big hit.”

Meanwhile, tour operators like Sue Mally, co-owner of Santa Fe Mountain Adventures, are watching the sky, hoping for gathering clouds and monsoon rains. Her company, which features hiking, biking and motorized tours of forest destinations, has other options available, but they don’t rank in popularity with the national forest.

“We’re coping, but it has been challenging,” she said. “Not only is it the national forest that has closed, but the trails and a lot of other parks and monuments have closed.”

Specifically, access to Picacho Peak via the Dale Ball Trails east of the city, and parts of Bandelier National Monument and Valle Caldera National Preserve are closed due to extreme fire hazard.

Andrew Eagan, owner of Santa Fe Jeep Tours, said business has remained steady, thanks to continued growth of tourism in Santa Fe. But it hasn’t grown, either, as it has every year since he went into business four years ago. He said he’s trimmed plans to spend up to $1,000 a month on advertising.

“We’ll survive, but it’s gonna be painful,” he said. “Our biggest, most popular tour, our bread and butter, is on Forest Service land.

“It’s horrible, but it has to be done,” Eagan said of the forest closure. “If it’s any consolation, I’m not angry at (the Forest Service). The reality is they have to do what they have to do.”

Like Mally, Eagan said taking clients on tours of Carson National Forest is not cost effective. The same goes for Ivan Valdez, co-owner of The Reel Life, a fly-fishing shop in Santa Fe. Hauling clients on guided trips to fish far-flung streams adds to costs, he said.

The go-to trout stream for many local and visiting fly fishers is the Pecos River, which is mostly off-limits because it flows through the national forest.

“It’s been tough. A lot of the trips we do are on the Pecos River, and we’re definitely having to take on other options,” Valdez said. But, he added, “most of our clients are tourists, they’re not doing multiday trips. Going to the Chama (River) is not an option.

“We just gotta pray and hope the rains do come.”


Information from: The Santa Fe New Mexican, http://www.santafenewmexican.com

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