Some National Parks Are Closing After “Surge in Visitors” During Pandemic

After waiving fees last week, Yosemite, Yellowstone and other popular parks have closed

El Capitan rock wall in Yosemite National Park
Yosemite recently closed to visitors because of Covid-19. More may soon follow.
Adam Kool/Unsplash
By Alex Lauer / March 26, 2020 6:30 am

Last week, the National Park Service seemed to be doing Americans a favor by waiving entrance fees. After all, where better to destress during the coronavirus pandemic while also staying six feet away from people? NPS made clear it was promoting social distancing as determined by the CDC and other authorities, writing, “Where it is possible to adhere to this guidance, outdoor spaces will remain open to the public.”

Turns out, at some of the country’s most popular national parks, it’s not possible.

On Tuesday, Grand Teton, the Great Smoky Mountains and Yellowstone National Parks all closed to the public in an effort to contain the spread of Covid-19. The broader closures follow the shuttering of Yosemite on Friday, and other national parks may follow. 

The Great Smoky Mountains “reported a surge in visitors during the past week,” reported The New York Times. It was already the most popular national park in 2019, but during the coronavirus outbreak the park “said that 30,000 people visited the park each day — 5,000 more a day than last March — and caused congestion at several of the park’s most popular sites.” 

As it stands, Yellowstone, Yosemite and Grand Teton are listed as closed “until further notice.” The Great Smoky Mountains, however, notes on its website that the park is closed “through Monday, April 6.”

The benefits of closing these outdoor gathering spaces go beyond stopping person-to-person spread within the parks themselves. As the Times noted, Montana Governor Steve Bullock wrote a letter urging the closure of Yellowstone for the wellbeing of communities around the park, too.

“Visitors are not only concentrating in the parks themselves but are also straining local grocery and other facilities at a time when local officials are attempting to curtail gatherings and meet the need for essential services,” wrote Bullock.

It’s a good reminder all round: Just because you’re outside doesn’t mean you’re not at risk, and just because you’re still allowed to drive around doesn’t mean you should risk spreading the coronavirus to other communities.

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