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Yosemite, Rocky Mountain, and More National Parks Close to Visitors

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Yosemite National Park closed to visitors last Friday, March 20, 2020, at 3 p.m.

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Yosemite National Park closed to visitors last Friday, March 20, 2020, at 3 p.m.

In response to COVID-19 concerns, national parks across the country have restricted services and closed facilities. But over the weekend a number of popular parks shut their gates and closed outright.

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Last Friday, two of the most visited national parks in the country, Yosemite and Rocky Mountain National Parks, shuttered due to health concerns surrounding the spread of COVID-19. Over the weekend, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and White Sands National Park followed suit, possibly hinting that more closures are to come.

On Wednesday, March 18, Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt announced that the NPS would waive fees at all national parks sites to aid in social distancing, even as more NPS sites announced closures of their visitor centers and programming. 

But while the wide open spaces of our national parks theoretically provide a good place for people to practice social distancing, in practice the situation isn’t quite so simple. 

Rocky Mountain and Yosemite National Parks, which each welcomed almost 5 million visitors last year, closed following requests from health department officials in the nearby gateway counties. In both parks, the continued stream of visitors created an environment that was not conducive to proper social distancing and also put both visitors and locals in danger. In their requests for closure, local health department officials cited their high-risk populations of retirees and a lack of medical services equipped to handle a surge in coronavirus cases. 

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In Yosemite, which remains open only to residents of communities within the park and select NPS and concessioner employees, facilities run by the park system and those managed by private concessioners closed last week, making it difficult for people to wash their hands, reports the Mercury News. The interior closures also led visitors to cluster around areas that were open. Surrounding Mariposa County has yet to see a case of COVID-19.

Rocky Mountain National Park locked its gates to guests at 7 p.m. on Friday, March 20.

Larimer County, where Rocky Mountain National Park is located, has seen over 30 COVID-19 cases at this time. Todd Jira, mayor of Estes Park, the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park, noted in his recommendation of closure his concern that the park was seeing a continued influx of visitors at such a critical time, reports the Denver Post. Visitors also risk endangering other rural counties and areas they must pass through to reach the park. 

Since March 15, the National Park Service has announced a series of closures and restrictions on parks and park services across the country. Golden Gate National Recreation Area in California was among the first to announce temporary closures to many visitor centers and popular spots, including Alcatraz Island and Muir Woods National Monument, in compliance with local shelter in place orders. On March 17, the National Park Service (NPS) announced that it would modify operations to implement the latest health guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).  

Other national parks that closed over the weekend include White Sands in New Mexico, Hawaii Volcanoes, and the summit of Haleakala. More closures are expected in the coming weeks; check the National Parks Active Alerts page for updates on individual park sites.

>>Next: A Safe, Practical Guide to Getting Outside While Social Distancing