Fewer Californians are planning to travel this Memorial Day weekend as rising prices for gasoline and airline tickets and concern about the economy is making more people think twice about leaving home for the holiday.
Gasoline prices in California this week averaged $3.98 per gallon, 53 cents more than a year ago, according to the Automobile Association of America.
In an annual poll, the number of Californians planning to travel 50 miles or more this Memorial Day weekend dipped 0.1 percent to 4.6 million. This is the first decline since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks disrupted travel habits and shook the economy.
The travel decline is more pronounced nationally with 0.9 percent fewer Americans planning to travel over the three-day holiday weekend, according to the AAA survey.
"This is definitely a response to high gas prices," said Cynthia Harris, a spokeswoman for AAA of Northern California. "But's not just high gas prices. It's the economy and increased prices for hotels, restaurants and auto rentals. People are just more likely to lay low, travel closer to home, or travel fewer days."
Travel on Memorial Day is considered a strong indicator of travel for the entire summer.
The auto association forecasts that 3.4 million Californians will take to the highways over the long weekend, a drop of 0.1 percent from a year ago. "I think once gas hits the $4, it has a real psychological effect," Harris said.
About 710,000 Californians plan to fly this weekend, a 0.2 percent decrease over Memorial Day weekend last year. Air travel costs have risen along with fuel costs. Air fares nationally over the Memorial Day holiday are up 8 percent from a year ago with the average air traveler expected to pay $182 per ticket this weekend, the association said.
Nationwide, about 37.9 million Americans are expected to travel this weekend, 84 percent of them by car and 11.6 percent on them by airline, the survey found.
Soaring gasoline prices may make close-in destinations more attractive.
Large campgrounds at Del Valle Regional Park near Livermore and Chabot Regional Park near Castro Valley were booked for the Memorial Day weekend earlier than normal this year.
"We're seeing a pretty substantial increase in camping reservations, much earlier than normal," said Shelly Lewis, a spokeswoman for the East Bay Regional Park District. "We take it a sign that people are staying close to home."
Yosemite National Park isn't seeing any decline, even though it can take four hours to drive there from the Bay Area. Most lodging there was booked five months ago as soon as reservations opened.
Yosemite visits increased in 2007 after several years of decline, said Scott Gediman, a park ranger. He attributed the upswing in part to the weak American dollar that has made Yosemite a bargain for the many European and Asian visitors.
Gediman said he thinks many California and American tourists are coming to Yosemite because it's closer to a large urban area than Grand Canyon and Yellowstone parks are. "You can still visit Yosemite in a day," Gediman said. "I think a lot of people are saying, 'We haven't been to Yosemite for a while, so let's rediscover it.'"
A dry spring also has made Yosemite more accessible along one route. Tioga Road through Yosemite Park opened for the season Wednesday morning because it was clear of snow earlier than usual. Yosemite visitors can drive east to west through the park on Tioga Road.
Elsewhere in Northern California near Redding, boaters will face trouble reaching recreational lakes if vessels they are hauling fail a mandatory inspection for standing water, which can harbor non-native quagga vessels. The California Department of Fish Game will staff the checkpoints on Interstate 5 near Redding from 2 to 8 p.m. today and Friday. Boat that are not clean and dry are subject to extensive searches and could be quarantined by the state.
In Contra Costa County, authorities will set up checkpoints for drunken drivers Friday night in Martinez, Saturday night in Pittsburg, and Sunday night in San Pablo
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WHAT'S OPEN; WHAT'S CLOSED
What facilities will be open on Memorial Day
Federal offices closed
State offices closed
County offices closed
Most city offices* closed
Post offices closed
Most banks closed
Major retail opens
Stock markets closed
AC Transit Sunday scheduled
BART, Sunday schedule .
CCCTA, No service except for all-nighter 820 route and shuttles to Concord pavilion concerts
Tri Delta Transit, sunday schedule
WestCAT, sunday schedule
Wheels, Sunday schedule
ACE no service
Capitols** holiday schedule
*Not all cities with meters allow free parking on all holidays. Information is on meters.