As the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic lockdowns ease and Americans look to hit the road, national and state parks are among the first destinations to welcome them. Three national parks will open their gates in coming days and the National Park Service announced last week that it would start “increasing access and services in a phased approach across all units of the National Park System.”
In many cases, parks will reopen as they closed—by varying timetables, depending on the park and its region. The agency said the decisions would follow federal CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidance as well as that provided by regional and local health authorities.
Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah opened trails around the red-rock spires of the Bryce Amphitheater on Wednesday (May 6). The main park road and all viewpoints along the way will be open from the entrance to Rainbow Point. However, the visitor center and fee booth, campgrounds, backcountry trails, park concession facilities, and restrooms remain closed (except for one at Sunset Point), a park announcement said.
Everglades National Park in Florida reopened some boat launch ramps, campgrounds, and restrooms Monday (May 4); Great Smoky Mountain National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee will allow visitors on most roads and trails starting tomorrow (May 9).
Everglades reopened access to the main park road from the Homestead entrance to Flamingo; external restrooms at the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center; Flamingo Marina and boat launch ramps; Flamingo Marina Store, restrooms, and gas pumps; Flamingo Fish Cleaning Station and restroom; and Chekika Day Use Area (roads and surrounding areas only). In addition, entry fees are waived.
Cumberland Island National Seashore in Georgia reopened their beaches, public docking spaces, and trails this past Saturday (May 2). However, the park’s Ice House Museum, Sea Camp Ranger Station, Plum Orchard Mansion, campgrounds (including wilderness camp sites), the mainland visitor center, and the mainland museum remain closed.
“This has been a very difficult time for our community, our families, and our world. The park is thrilled to be able to take this small step forward with the hope it will help provide some with an opportunity to find peace and joy in visiting the seashore,” said Superintendent Gary Ingram.
Capitol Reef National Park in Utah slowly allowed visitors back into the park on Tuesday (May 5), though some of the most popular areas will remain closed for the time being. The park will reopen access to day use in the South District (Waterpocket Fold) and overnight stays in Cedar Mesa campground, day use in the North District (Cathedral Valley) and overnight stays in Cathedral Valley campground, and non-trailhead Pullouts along Highway 24 for scenic viewing.
“We are pleased to begin reopening the park to our communities and visitors and hope this helps our local businesses re-open their operations with assurance that the park is moving towards phased re-opening access. We look forward to seeing you in the broad expanses of the northern and southern portions of this spectacular park” said Superintendent Sue Fritzke.
Other national parks with plans to partially reopen this week Include Stone River National Battlefield in Tennessee, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and neighboring Curecanti National Recreation Area in Colorado, Gateway National Recreation Area in New York and New Jersey, and Gulf Islands National Seashore in Florida and Mississippi.
Zion National Park in Utah recently announced on its Web site that it will be reopening its gates next week (Wednesday, May 13). In a brief message on the park’s website, Zion National Park said it will reopen access to select areas. Access will be day-use and only in select parts of the park that have yet to be specified. Visitor access will be limited to available parking in some areas. Further details have not yet been released, but the park said it will release additional details in the coming days.
Some parks never officially closed (like Channel Islands). Some, like Yosemite, are such magnets for visitors that superintendents felt obliged to close them relatively early. Still others, like the Grand Canyon, closed later despite heavy visitor traffic.
At other parks, it’s harder to be sure what’s happening when.
But in hopes of reopening soon, The Xanterra Travel Collection which operates hotels and concessions in a number of parks—including Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Zion, Death Valley, and Glacier—said that it would reopen the bulk of its park properties on June 15.
Check with individual parks for specific details since, in many cases, visitor centers, concessions, and bathroom facilities might be closed.
Stay six feet away from others (“social distancing”) and take other steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19. If a park, beach, or recreational facility is open for public use, visiting is okay as long as you practice social distancing and everyday steps such as washing hands often and covering coughs and sneezes. Follow these actions when visiting a park, beach, or recreational facility:
- Stay at least six feet from others at all times. This might make some open areas, trails, and paths better to use. Do not go into a crowded area.
- Avoid gathering with others outside of your household.
- Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
- Bring hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol to use if soap and water are not available
That’s it from me for today. Hope you found this edition of RVing with Rex to be enlightening!
As Yogi Berra said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”