GOVERNMENT

National parks are open — with some changes — amid virus

Mar 19, 2020, 5:31 AM
A sign at the National Park Inn at Longmire offers food orders to-go from the inn's restaurant at M...
A sign at the National Park Inn at Longmire offers food orders to-go from the inn's restaurant at Mount Rainier National Park, Wednesday, March 18, 2020, in Washington state. Most national parks are remaining open during the outbreak of the new coronavirus, but many are closing visitor centers, shuttles, lodges and restaurants in hopes of containing its spread. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Most national parks are open as a refuge for Americans tired of being stuck at home during a global pandemic, but despite now being free to visit, people may find it more difficult than normal to enjoy them as parks close visitor centers, shuttles, lodges and restaurants to fight the spread of the coronavirus.

Parks are trying to keep up with ever-changing rules and recommendations from government officials who are urging people to avoid gathering in large groups but allowing them to get outside for fresh air and exercise as long as they keep their distance from others. The National Park Service says it’s adhering to the latest guidelines from the White House and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, vowing to keep outdoor spaces open while giving park superintendents the power to close or modify operations.

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt on Wednesday temporarily waived National Park Service entrance fees to make it easier for people to get outdoors and “implement some social distancing.”

“Getting out into the wilderness is perfect for what we call the ‘shack nasties’ — being cooped up inside your home,” said Trish Jacob, an employee of a backcountry guiding company near Rocky Mountain National Park.

But not everyone is on board with the idea of people descending on parks and their gateway towns to escape the virus.

Executives at a hospital in Moab, Utah, implored state officials to slow the flow of people coming to see the red rocks and unique formations at Arches and Canyonlands national parks over fears the city’s hospital can’t handle an outbreak. Officials this week limited hotel stays there to people in town for work and banned in-person restaurant dining.

Nationally, park superintendents are devising ways to stay open while keeping people at safe distances from one another and trying to ensure park employees stay healthy. Many parks closed visitor centers, museums and entrance booths while rangers are stationed outside to field visitors’ questions. Though rangers are working, some parks warned people to be extra cautious and prepared, especially in places with wintry weather, because resources are strained amid the pandemic and rescues may be more difficult.

Zion National Park in southern Utah halted shuttles used by most people visiting its red rock vistas nestled in a narrow canyon. Tourists now must wait for limited parking to free up before driving into the canyon. Grand Canyon National Park stopped its shuttles and closed its restaurants.

In Northern California, visitor centers at several destinations managed by the National Park Service, such as Muir Woods National Monument, Alcatraz Island and the Golden Gate Bridge, are closed.

Yellowstone National Park, Mount Rainier National Park in Washington state and Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado followed suit. Most facilities and roads in Yellowstone — which spans parts of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho — and Rainier normally are closed this time of year because of deep snow. The Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island in New York are closed entirely.

Workers at Grand Canyon have shifted from duties that put them in close proximity with tourists to other posts within the park.

“We’re just coming up with different ways for them to do their jobs that’s mindful of the CDC guidelines,” park spokeswoman Lily Daniels said.

For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms. But for the elderly and people with existing conditions, it can cause more severe illness. The vast majority of those who are infected recover.

The Utah hospital’s concerns aren’t related to being out in the wilderness but rather the social interactions before and afterward at hotels, bars, restaurants and often crowded trailheads or entrance gates.

Expecting thousands of tourists this weekend, Moab Regional Hospital executives urged the governor to ban visitors. A subsequent prohibition on tourists staying at area hotels complicated matters.

“We’re just encouraging people stay home and stay in their residences and to wait out this two weeks and hopefully things will return to some kind of normal,” said Elaine Gizler, executive director of the Moab Area Travel Council.

Like the interior secretary, U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah has encouraged people to enjoy the parks and open spaces where they can keep distance from others.

That’s just what Katarina Takahashi of Longmont, Colorado, did in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Takahashi trudged through fresh snow during a three-hour hike to Emerald Lake last week, passing other alpine lakes surrounded by towering peaks. The 3-mile (5-kilometer) trek was a much-needed escape into what she called “a stark and empty landscape.”

“It’s a very refreshing time to be outdoors, to get the health benefits of exercising, be in the sunshine, and get away as well from the anxiety I’ve felt, that we’re all feeling, about the virus,” said Takahashi, a 32-year-old freelance Japanese language translator who blogs about the outdoors.

Businesses in Estes Park, a gateway town for Rocky Mountain National Park, are watching virus developments warily. The town of 6,000 relies heavily on the park, which drew a record 4.6 million visitors in 2018.

“We are open for business until the city tells us otherwise,” said Jacob, who works for Kirk Mountain Adventures, which offers snowshoeing, fly fishing, hiking, backpacking and other excursions into the park.

Kirk employees were out this week leading snowshoeing and fly fishing trips — each limited to three people, not because of the virus but because many visitors want a more intimate experience in nature. But spring break business is slightly down, Jacob said.

Like its Moab counterpart, the Estes Park Chamber of Commerce is focusing more on helping its members deal with the virus than promoting tourism. The town’s already been hit by a statewide ban on dining at restaurants and bars.

“We’re not encouraging visitation to Estes Park right now,” chamber executive director Keith Pearson said.

If there’s any silver lining, Pearson said, it may be better that the first shock waves from the coronavirus are hitting now, rather than during the peak summer season. He noted that Estes Park has bounced back before: It was isolated by devastating flooding in 2013.

“By Memorial Day, if the worst can be in the rear-view mirror, that would be fantastic,” Pearson said.

___

Anderson reported from Denver. Associated Press writers Lindsay Whitehurst in Salt Lake City and Felicia Fonseca in Flagstaff, Arizona contributed to this story.

Today’s Top Stories

Government

FILE - A Montana man was sentenced to three years in prison for his role in the Capitol riot. (AP P...
The Associated Press

Montana man gets 3 years in prison for role in Capitol riot

A Montana man will spend three years in federal prison for his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S Capitol.
3 days ago
Dozens of residents were displaced after fire at a low income apartment complex in Richfield, Utah....
Mark Jones

American Red Cross of Utah seeks volunteers in central Utah

The American Red Cross of Utah is seeking volunteers in central Utah after a fire in Richfield earlier this week displaced 35 families.
3 days ago
On Thanksgiving Day, Crave Cookies donated to the Utah County Jail and The Salvation Army hosted me...
Waverly Golden

Thanksgiving Day donations and volunteering

On Thanksgiving Day, Crave Cookies donated to the Utah County Jail and The Salvation Army hosted meal preparation and delivery to Utah families.
3 days ago
Gail Halvorsen, the Berlin Candy Bomber, poses for a photo in the backyard of his Provo home days b...
Waverly Golden

Utahn helps non-profit with modern day “Candy Bomber” operation

In memory of "The Candy Bomber," a fundraiser hopes to supply Christmas presents to refugee children in Berlin and Ukraine.
5 days ago
A duck swims in the pond at Liberty Park in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020. Photo credi...
Mark Jones

Pond at Liberty Park drained for necessary repairs

The pond at Liberty Park has been drained for needed repairs. It is expected repairs on the pond should be completed by the end of December.
6 days ago
FILE: Former President Donald Trump, seen here on May 28, filed his paperwork on November 15 establ...
ERIC TUCKER and MICHAEL BALSAMO Associated Press

Garland names special counsel to lead Trump-related probes

The special counsel announced on Friday will oversee the investigation into the presence of classified documents at former President Donald Trump's Florida estate.
10 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Happy joyful smiling casual satisfied woman learning and communicates in sign language online using...
Sorenson

The best tools for Deaf and hard-of-hearing workplace success

Here are some of the best resources to make your workplace work better for Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees.
Team supporters celebrating at a tailgate party...
Macey's

8 Delicious Tailgate Foods That Require Zero Prep Work

In a hurry? These 8 tailgate foods take zero prep work, so you can fuel up and get back to what matters most: getting hyped for your favorite
christmas decorations candles in glass jars with fir on a old wooden table...
Western Nut Company

12 Mason Jar Gift Ideas for the 12 Days of Christmas [with recipes!]

There are so many clever mason jar gift ideas to give something thoughtful to your neighbors or friends. Read our 12 ideas to make your own!
wide shot of Bear Lake with a person on a stand up paddle board...

Pack your bags! Extended stays at Bear Lake await you

Work from here! Read our tips to prepare for your extended stay, whether at Bear Lake or somewhere else nearby.
young boy with hearing aid...
Sorenson

Accommodations for students who are deaf and hard of hearing

These different types of accommodations for students who are deaf and hard of hearing can help them succeed in school.
Young woman receiving laser treatment...
Form Derm Spa

How facial plastic surgery and skincare are joining forces

Facial plastic surgery is not only about looking good but about feeling good too. The medical team at Form Spa are trained to help you reach your aesthetic outcomes through surgery and through skincare and dermatology, too.
National parks are open — with some changes — amid virus