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Joshua Tree National Park reopens, but with limitations

The sun looms behind a Joshua tree.
(Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)

Joshua Tree National Park reopened to the public Sunday after closing for two months amid the coronavirus crisis.

Parking lots, trails, family campsites and some bathroom facilities were reopened Sunday afternoon, according to spokesperson Hannah Schwalbe.

Joshua Tree Superintendent David Smith said the park worked closely with health officials in San Bernardino and Riverside counties to ensure it was “in line with current health advisories.”

“By opening the park in phases, we plan on being able to take measured steps that ensure the safety of our staff and visitors while providing increased access to our National Park,” Smith said in a news statement Monday.

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Visitors consistently came and went Sunday, but the area wasn’t overrun, Schwalbe said. Loop trails inside the park, including Barker Dam and Hidden Valley, are one-way only.

“People were excited to see the park again,” Schwalbe told The Times via email. “We were pleased to not have as much crowding as we did when the park first began decreasing access in March.”

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Joshua Tree began limiting access March 16 before completely closing access on April 1 amid statewide stay-at-home orders, Schwalbe said.

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Visitors centers and group campsites will remain closed, officials said. And while family campsites are open, it is recommended that only members of the same household camp together, officials said. All 520 sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

All programs and special-use activities are closed through May 31, according to the park’s website.

Entrance stations will be staffed regularly, but employees won’t be collecting fees. Schwalbe referred to the park’s website for more information.

Park officials recommended the following steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19:

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  • Enjoy the outdoor recreation areas around your local community.
  • Visit with members of your household only.
  • Practice social distancing by maintaining six feet of distance between you and anyone outside of your household.
  • Avoid crowded areas.
  • Bring hand sanitizer, a mask and other items to stay clean and safe. There are no hand-sanitizing stations within the park, and most of the restroom facilities do not have running water.
  • Maintain space while passing others on a trail.
  • Backcountry camping is open, but park officials ask that you camp in small groups with only members from your household.

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