COVID-19 and National Parks

Yellowstone river in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming USA.

By: ASHLEY HOPKINS

With COVID-19 limiting travel options, people are eager to find safe vacation spots or day trip locations. National Parks seem to be the perfect place to travel amidst this pandemic because the huge outdoor locations allow for social distancing, and there are many things to do within the parks. 

In March, the Trump administration waived all fees to get into the National Parks in hopes that giving more access to nature would help people during these confusing and stressful times, and that choice proved to be controversial. “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,” said Phil Francis, chair of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks. On top of that, the parks make a large amount of their money from entrance and parking fees, so removing those does more harm than good. 

Even though the Trump administration made this debatable decision, national parks have seen a huge decrease in visitors. According to AARP, “ Attendance at Yellowstone, which typically sees about 4 million visitors a year, was down 32 percent in June this year compared to June 2019.” This is far from surprising as a few dollars being given to potential visitors aren’t going to make people want to visit during a severe pandemic.  In some cases, areas have been completely closed off. “NPS manages 419 sites — from national parks to national seashores — and 224 were completely closed due to the pandemic.” Over half of the areas were closed due to the massive spread of the coronavirus. However, most of those were enclosed spaces and today you can still visit popular national parks such as the Yosemite in California and the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

In general, most parks have closed and even open ones have seen a massive drop. This drop of visitation has given the wildlife a small break. According to Beth Pratt, the National Wildlife Federation’s regional executive director for California, “With Yosemite and other parks closed to tourists, wildlife is coming out of hiding, and indeed, even thriving in our absence, reclaiming some of the places that have been dominated by human activity for decades.” Pratt continues with a great example, “With threats like vehicle collisions or being harassed for a selfie largely eliminated, the coyotes are trotting through Camp Curry hunting mice, and the black bears [are] wandering around a mostly empty Yosemite Village.” This proves that even in areas humans have created to specifically allow the wildlife to prosper, people can still have a damaging effect on it. 

All in all, National Parks aren’t the best coronacation destination, and are still risky to visit.  However, some National Parks are offering live webcam tours of the parks to help people stay connected to nature during this stressful time.

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