WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is urging Americans to head to national parks as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread.
Many people are heading outdoors to seek a reprieve from being cooped up at home. But in many locations, some fear that the sudden influx of visitors to national parks could put those parks and the public’s health at risk.
And the situation could soon be changing. The New York Times reported late yesterday that three of the nation’s busiest national parks — Yellowstone, Grand Teton and the Great Smoky Mountains (which straddles the North Carolina-Tennessee border) — have closed. Other national parks in North Carolina have closed visitor centers and, in some instances, campgrounds, but have kept other areas, like hiking trails, open.
Despite the precautions parks are taking, there’s been increased concern about park visitors’ health after Interior Secretary David Bernhardt last week announced that the government would temporarily suspend collection of entrance fees at its 419 parks and heritage sites.
“I’ve directed the National Park Service to waive entrance fees at parks that remain open,” Bernhardt said in a statement. “This small step makes it a little easier for the American public to enjoy the outdoors in our incredible National Parks.”
Some are warning that the announcement was irresponsible, both for the parks and public health.
“Our national parks are spaces that often provide an escape from everyday life. They can be places of peace and sanctuary. And under normal circumstances, we would certainly support sending more Americans to visit our national parks,” said Phil Francis, chairman of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks, which represents over 1,700 current, former and retired park employees.
“But these are not normal circumstances. We should not be encouraging more visitation to our national parks. It is irresponsible to urge people to visit national park sites when gathering at other public spaces is no longer considered safe.” Read more