Coalition members are speaking out about the dangers of increased visitation at national parks, despite the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) recommendations about social distancing. Numerous parks across the country have seen an increase in visitation since the Secretary of the Interior waived entrance fees in parks. “We should not be encouraging more visitation to our national parks. It is irresponsible to urge people to visit national park sites when gathering at other public spaces is no longer considered safe,” says Coalition Chair Phil Francis.
Coalition member and retired park superintendent Joan Anzelmo spoke with High Country News, saying “it is mind-boggling that an official with responsibility for all of the public lands that fall underneath the Interior is willing to risk his workforce to spin a message that everything is great, go to a national park.”
Mark Butler, a Coalition member and retired superintendent of Joshua Tree, spoke with USAToday, about the tendency of visitors to congregate in the same places in national parks. “The visitors, a majority of them, do not typically venture beyond those standard, iconic destinations,” Butler said. He added the national park system is chronically underfunded and even in the best of times park staff is stretched thin. “Parks are already at a disadvantage,” Butler said. “I would have to say encouraging additional visitation at this point in time … is going to be challenging.
Backpacker Magazine interviewed Coalition member Doug Morris about the jump in visitation at some national parks. “I think there is concern that [NPS employees] are being unnecessarily required to deal with the public in ways that go beyond what the CDC recommends and what most local and state officials recommend,” Morris said. “Keeping the parks open requires that they continue business as usual at a time when it’s not business as usual.”