Smoke detracts visitors, Hellgate sees fewer customers

GRANTS PASS, Ore.– Businesses are seeing fewer customers than normal due to the early fire season. For Hellgate Jetboat Excursions, the fire and smoke last week resulted in evacuations and fewer bookings.

This week, however, the company is back to full production and continuing to carry out fun-filled excursions for customers willing to go out in the smoke. While it may still deter some, Hellgate says it will keep working to provide a good experience for customers.

But to not have as busy of a season as previous years, things can be tough.

“For all of us in southern Oregon, July and August is our peak season so it has a very large impact,” said Travis Hamlyn, president of Hellgate.

The smoke is here earlier this year than last and already businesses are feeling it’s effects.

“It’s something we look at and it’s impacting our numbers and so we keep very close track of what happens and then as the smoke settles in earlier this year, of course we are seeing lower numbers earlier in the season,” said Hamlyn.

For Hellgate like many other seasonal businesses, dealing with the smoke is out of their hands but they still try their best to provide for customers.

“We try to update our passengers as much as we can about the conditions and it’s extremely hard for us,” said Hamlyn. “There are days where it’ll be smoky in town but the river corridor is clear and then vice versa.”

According to Hellgate, customers are understanding of the circumstances.

“We phoned ahead just to make sure they were still renting but yeah, still enjoying it despite the weather and the smoke,” said Marcia Thomaschewski.

While some may still cancel, Thomaschewski and her family, who are visiting from Alberta, Canada, decided to come out and make the most of it.

“We have teenage kids and we thought it would be fun for all of us to do something and see some of the local environment,” she said.

While the smoke was better on the Tuesday the Thomaschewskis went out on the river than it has been on previous days in the past week, Mrs. Thomaschewski says they were still prepared just in case.

“Not so much bothered, we have a daughter who has asthma so if she has a puffer and did that and took some precautions – still outside,” she said.

Unfortunately not all customers are as optimistic and Hellgate says the season is still slower than normal.

“I’m sure lots of folks are feeling that impact right now and I’m sure as a community we’ll feel those impacts through the year,” said Hamlyn. “I mean that revenue that’s lost from those outside folks, all of us have less to spend and so tougher decisions during the year.”

Hellgate says that there are no penalties to cancel a trip if visitors decide not to go due to the smoke. But they hope next year will be bring better conditions for everyone.

“We hope that they come visit us another time,” said Hamlyn. “But, you know, as a seasonal business this is a rare time that people can experience this and it’s the only time we can operate for sure.”

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