Concessions Contract Prospectus Floated For Lodging, Dining At Kings Canyon National Park

The views along the drive from Grant Grove to Cedar Grove in Kings Canyon National Park are outstanding...if you're able to take your eyes off the steep, winding road. Photo by David and Kay Scott.

Somewhat off the beaten path, and overshadowed by its neighbor, Kings Canyon National Park in California's High Sierra is one of the peaceful jewels of the National Park System. You can call it home if you are the successful bidder for the concessions business.

The National Park Service on May 18 released its 10-year concession prospectus for the operation of lodging, food service, retail sales, and associated services in the park.

The concession is currently operated by Asilomar Management Company under a contract that will expire December 31, 2012. The concession operation in adjacent Sequoia National Park is held by Delaware North Corporation and not part of the Kings Canyon prospectus.

Concession facilities in Kings Canyon include lodging, retail, and food services at both Grant Grove and Cedar Grove. Grant Grove includes the 36-room John Muir Lodge, which was constructed in the late-1990s, plus 33 rustic cabins (nine have a private bathroom) and 17 tent cabins. A gift shop, restaurant, and market are in the Grant Grove complex.

Cedar Grove has a 21-room lodge that includes a small market plus a small food service operation. Lodging revenues for 2010 were $1.9 million at Grant Grove and $366,000 at Cedar Grove. Food and beverage revenues for the same year were $1.1 million and $180,000, respectively. The winning bidder will be required to pay the existing concessionaire $1.1 million for possessory (ownership) interest that will convert to leasehold interest under the new contract.

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The cabins at Grant Grove. Photo by David and Kay Scott.

The $1.1 million obligation is most likely for the existing concessionaire’s remaining ownership interest in John Muir Lodge, which opened in 1999. Buildings are typically depreciated over a 40-year period.

Merchandise, supplies, and equipment will entail an expenditure similar to that for possessory interest.

Overall, the National Park Service estimates an initial investment for the winning applicant will be approximately $3 million. The prospectus requires an annual payment of 2.6 percent of revenues be assigned to a repair and maintenance reserve and an annual franchise fee of 4 percent of revenues.

The major construction project (called the “concession facilities improvement program”) included in the prospectus is the demolition and replacement of the Grant Grove restaurant and check-in area. Park Service officials are estimating this will cost approximately $5.4 million and be completed by October 2016. The new concessionaire will be required to develop a temporary food service operation until the new restaurant is functioning. The current gift shop will require remodeling, too, as it is currently connected to the building to be demolished.

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Cedar Grove Lodge. Photo by David and Kay Scott.

The current restaurant is quite plain with the atmosphere of a roadside diner rather than a national park dining facility. It has an odd layout with a back room currently being used as a pizza parlor.

Interestingly, the new concessionaire will be required to offer camping gear rentals at both Grant Grove and Cedar Grove. In addition, it will be authorized, but not required, to offer a campsite set-up service at both locations. The idea is to offer a camping option for families without the necessity to buy or transport camping equipment.

Bicycle rentals and vehicle tours will be authorized, but not required at Cedar Grove.

As an aside, we have always considered the Cedar Grove area of Kings Canyon National Park to be one of the great undiscovered treasures of the national parks for many travelers. The drive from Grant Grove to Cedar Grove is the scenic equal of any road in America.

Comments

I've been to both of these locations, and I would note that "basic" is the operating word. The dining facilities at Cedar Grove are more of a basic snack bar where the menu is one of those boards where the letters are pressed into a bunch of lines. I think they have a "higher end" menu for dinner, but it was mostly greasy burgers and fried foods. The Cedar Grove grocery store also served as their checkin facility. If anything, it felt like one was checking in at a gas station convenience store.

I also couldn't quite understand the layout of the restaurant and checking at Grant Grove. None of it really made any sense. I could see why they would want to start over.