The Cambrian

More people are visiting Hearst Castle, despite Hwy. 1 closures, bad weather and roadwork

Hearst Castle attendance is recovering a year after Highway 1 reopened following a lengthy closure to repair damage from the Mud Creek Slide, annual ticket sales show.

Attendance at the Hearst San Simeon State Historical Monument grew by about 4.5 percent in 2018-19 over the same July-through-June period in 2017-18, according to statistics provided by Dan Falat, superintendent of the park district that includes the Castle.

Some 616,049 visitors toured the Castle in the most recent fiscal year, compared to 591,275 in the previous fiscal year.

But the monthly figures illustrate what has been a veritable roller coaster year for North Coast businesses that rely on Castle visitors for part of their own profits.

In those 12 months, year-over-year attendance was down in three months (July 2018 and December and February 2019), flat in March 2019, and up in the other eight months, albeit sometimes by as low an increase as 1,605 visitors.

Mary Ann Carson, executive director of the Cambria Chamber of Commerce, took a recent mental romp through the various factors that seemed to affect how many people were on the North Coast during various months of that fiscal year.

Highway 1, which had been closed by the massive Mud Creek landslide since May 2017, finally reopened in July 2018, but it took time for visitors’ plans to change accordingly, she said.

“Business really didn’t pick up until the Scarecrow Festival in October, then again for the Christmas Market,” although the latter was a slower period for the Castle, with attendance in 2018-19 down by nearly 7,000 visitors.

“Crummy winter weather slowed business at the start of 2019,” Carson said.

And during February’s heavy rainstorms, portions of Highway 1 were closed more than they were open, as Caltrans shut down the Mud Creek and Paul’s Slide areas of the All-American Highway as a safety precaution against injuries and vehicular damage from landslides.

“January, February and March were slow,” Carson said. “It was a late spring break, but things picked up in April.”

Then there was a slow climb in business toward summer, she said.

Recently, Caltrans began two intensive, multi-million-dollar resurfacing projects on Highway 1 from Cayucos to Cambria Pines Road, producing alternating lane closures and some gnarly traffic jams, which also affected the level of business and sales for some shops in town.

And repair work at Ragged Point began in June, resulting in alternating lane closures that should end sometime in August.

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Kathe Tanner has been writing about the people and places of SLO County’s North Coast since 1981, first as a columnist and then also as a reporter. Her career has included stints as a bakery owner, public relations director, radio host, trail guide and jewelry designer She has been a resident of Cambria for more than four decades, and if it’s happening in town, Kathe knows about it.