Travel | March 19, 2020 6:30 am

National Parks Are Not Just Open, They’re Free

“Where it is possible ... outdoor spaces will remain open to the public.”

Yosemite National Park waterfall
Yosemite National Park
Brittney Burnett/Unsplash

While states like Illinois and New Mexico have closed their state park systems, and the White House in conjunction with the CDC has officially recommended avoiding social gatherings of more than 10 people amid the coronavirus outbreak, the National Park Service is still open for business. Not just that, but on Wednesday the NPS decided to “temporarily suspend the collection of all park entrance fees.” Yup, national parks are free starting now.

As Outside magazine reports, some national parks are actually “packed.” That’s according to Tom VendenBerg, chief of interpretation at Big Bend National Park in Texas, who told the magazine on Monday that there were “lots and lots of people” at the park. It turns out, the country’s national parks find themselves at the difficult juncture of providing a necessary service for the mental well-being of Americans while also potentially risking the spread of Covid-19 due to large gatherings.

“The National Park Service (NPS) is taking extraordinary steps to implement the latest guidance from the White House, Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), and local and state authorities to promote social distancing,” reads an online NPS Public Health Update. “The NPS is modifying operations, until further notice, for facilities and programs that cannot adhere to this guidance. Where it is possible to adhere to this guidance, outdoor spaces will remain open to the public.”

Some of the facilities closed so far include lodging and dining facilities at Yosemite National Park, as well as shuttles in Zion and campgrounds in Everglades, according to Outside. Other specific sites that can’t accommodate social distancing have been completely shuttered, such as the Washington Monument and Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island.

Howard Frumkin, an epidemiologist Outside spoke to, explained the dichotomy by noting the severity of CDC recommendations — such as social distancing and reducing social gatherings — but also recommending people take advantage of the outdoors during this stressful time.

“In addition to the risk of infection, the other problems we’re all facing, in terms of health and well-being, are anxiety and social isolation,” he told the magazine. “We know that going to the outdoors is pretty effective at addressing both of those problems.”

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