Yesterday, after weeks of pressure from health officials, the National Park Service closed Grand Canyon National Park due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is the second most popular of the 62 U.S. national parks.
The closure of the Grand Canyon means that only one of the top 10 most popular U.S. national parks remains open: Utah’s Zion National Park, which, while technically open has only limited service available to the public. On March 27, Utah Governor issued a “stay safe, stay home” order to combat spread of COVID-19.
There has been a groundswell of pressure to close all national parks. “Warnings on the National Park Service website and closed park facilities are not enough to deter people,” according to a March 26 statement from Theresa Pierno, President and CEO of the nonprofit National Parks Conservation Association, a group that advocates on park policy issues. “In fact, the visitors are still coming in droves. Parking lots are full and attractions are too crowded as people try to seek respite in this incredibly stressful time.”
Local governments and the Navajo Nation had requested for federal officials to shut down Grand Canyon National Park as COVID-19 cases grew in surrounding areas, but to no avail until yesterday. Pierno had called the government’s former refusal to close the Grand Canyon “beyond reckless.”
“The Department of the Interior and the National Park Service will continue to follow the guidance of state and local health officials in making determinations about our operations,” said Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt in a statement. “As soon as we received the letter from the Health and Human Services Director and Chief Health Officer for Coconino County recommending the closure of Grand Canyon National Park, we closed the park.”
The Trump administration and National Park Service have been under fire for giving Americans mixed signals during the COVID-19 crisis. The dozens of parks that still remain open are newly free of charge, thanks to a decision to waive entrance fees made by the government on March 18.