“Visitors are surging to national parks as people across the country seek relief from coronavirus shelter-in-place orders. In the past week, Point Reyes National Seashore north of San Francisco experienced what park officials described as “unprecedented visitation.” Thousands of travelers flooded into Virginia’s Shenandoah, while Arches in Utah and Joshua Tree in California had gate traffic jams that resembled the mobs of high season.
On March 18, the National Park Service waived entrance fees at national parks nationwide to make it “easier for the American public to enjoy the outdoors.” Since then, scores of national park sites have been shuttered to prevent crowds and slow the spread of COVID-19. Closures include Hawaii Volcanoes, Great Smoky Mountains, Grand Teton, Sequoia and Kings Canyon, Big Bend, Yosemite, and Yellowstone, among many others.
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility executive director Tim Whitehouse was blunt about the shortsightedness of Interior Secretary Bernhardt’s order waiving entrance fees: “Encouraging mass park visitation amid a pandemic is irresponsible and endangers visitors and local communities.” Concerns include jam-packed restrooms, visitor centers, and shuttles, which lack high-quality ventilation.”