California’s Daffodil Hill has become the latest tourist attraction to be loved to death.
The family-owned ranch in a historic mining area east of Sacramento, which for decades has welcomed visitors to wander daffodil-dotted paths, said Monday on its Facebook page that it was closing “indefinitely” after a short and overwhelming season.
In doing so, it joins several sites that have been forced to close, either temporarily or for the long haul, because they could not handle the effects of crowding. An Ontario sunflower farm, a California hillside covered in poppies, a party island in the Philippines, a movie-famous bay in Thailand and an Icelandic canyon featured in a Justin Bieber video have all become poster children for the dangers of overtourism.
“This is the modern era, and the word getting out about these kinds of things is completely viral and insane,” says Maureen Funk, executive director of Amador Council of Tourism, the county that includes Daffodil Hill.
Martha Honey, executive director of the Center for Responsible Travel, called such cases “extreme” but potentially more likely if travel continues unabated without infrastructure keeping up.
“The first to shutter are smaller, fragile natural destinations — a field of daffodils in Amador County, California, or the once hidden Maya Bay in Thailand,” she said in an email. “If unchecked, overtourism will force other destinations to post ‘Closed Indefinitely’ signs.”
The family members who own the ranch in Volcano, Calif., never expected to become a casualty.
“The generations that came before us who purchased this property in 1887, which evolved into Daffodil Hill, could never have envisioned that their efforts would have ever grown into such a beloved attraction,” they wrote on their Facebook page. “Sadly, it is this overwhelming popularity that has led us to our decision to close.”
They wrote that the “crush of visitors” this year made the limitations of their own parking areas and the surrounding infrastructure all too clear.
The free attraction opened for the season on March 30, when the flowers were ready, with the goal of staying open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. seven days a week. But rain forced it to close April 1, and a few days later, the owners said the forecast led them to make the tough decision to close for the season.
“While we greatly appreciate our guests, the thousands who visited this past weekend completely overwhelmed our narrow county road system leading to the Hill as well as our parking, restroom facilities, and our garden areas,” they said on Facebook at the time. “These are issues that the family will attempt to address in the coming months through meetings to identify any possible solutions before the 2020 season.”
This year’s short season followed a nonexistent one last year, also due to weather. Funk, of the county tourism council, said that likely created pent-up demand for this season.
According to the nearby Sutter Creek Visitors Center, Ryan, his brothers and their families have planted an average of 16,000 daffodil bulbs a year over the past several years. “It is estimated that today, Daffodil Hill is carpeted with approximately 300,000 bulbs when in full bloom,” the center’s website said.
By the time Daffodil Hill opened this year, a different floral cautionary tale was in the news. In mid-March, a “poppy apocalypse” seized a canyon southeast of Los Angeles when thousands of visitors caused gridlock trying to get to a wildflower super bloom; city officials briefly closed access to the public area after the situation spiraled out of control.
The city, Lake Elsinore, scrambled to close certain roads, increase enforcement against illegal parking, add shuttle service and establish routes just for residents; they updated a hotline, social media and official websites with the information.
Amir Eylon, CEO of Longwoods International, a market research consultancy that specializes in tourism, said “spontaneous mass tourism” often requires multiple solutions and significant planning, sometimes beyond the business that is attracting visitors. Entire communities may need to be involved in an overarching strategy, he said.
“I think the challenge about mass tourism is about having the appropriate infrastructure,” he says. “It’s not about overtourism, it’s about visitor management.”
Can the site set timed entries, for example, sell limited tickets or otherwise place restrictions on visitation?
Daffodil Hill’s owners said they had considered several potential ways to reduce traffic and crowds, including shuttles and reservations. But they concluded there was no way to remedy the underlying problems, a decision they called “the most difficult that we, as a family, have ever made."
Replies to their Facebook post were sad but overwhelmingly understanding.
“We don’t blame you at all,” one woman wrote. “It was starting to turn into Disneyland. I sure miss the good old days and thank you thank you thank you for all you have given us.”