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When will national parks reopen? Many are opening in phases

Poster from the National Park Service reminding people about social distancing.
(National Park Service)

Several national parks are opening their gates with more likely to follow as the National Park Service boosts access and services in a “phased approach across all units” of the system.

Utah seems to be one state where many national parklands are starting to reopen. Arches and Canyonlands national parks will open park roads, trails and restrooms starting May 29. Back-country permits for Canyonlands and climbing or canyoneering trips in Arches will be available May 30, an announcement said.

However, visitor centers and park stores will remain closed. Camping in the back-country and at Fiery Furnace and Devils Garden campgrounds in Arches as well as Willow Flat and Needles camping areas are still shut.

Zion National Park will open select areas for day-use activities starting May 13, and Capitol Reef National Park, which opened May 5 to day-use in Cathedral Valley and Waterpocket Fold. Overnight stays are allowed in Cedar Mesa and Cathedral Valley campgrounds.

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Dinosaur National Monument in Jensen, Utah, will reopen roads and trails May 13, but visitor centers and campgrounds will remain closed. Also, visitors are asked to bring their own drinking water as there won’t be reliable access.

Hovenweep and Natural Bridges national monuments in Utah will reopen roads, trails and restrooms on May 14. Visitor centers and other facilities will remain shut.

However, temporary closures in Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Muir Woods National Monument and Fort Point National Historic Site will remain in place because stay-at-home orders for six counties in the Bay Area have been extended through May.

Parking restrictions continue at places such as Muir, Stinson and Rodeo beaches. Alcatraz Island, the Presidio Visitor Center, Fort Point National Historic Site, Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center, Muir Woods and other areas have not yet reopened.

In many cases, parks will reopen as they closed — by varying timetables, depending on the park and its region. The agency said decisions would follow the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as regional and local health authorities.

The CDC has dedicated a web page for visitors on how to stay safe in park settings.

Your next flight probably won’t be much like your last one. It may cost more, it may be emptier, it may include a ‘sky janitor.’ And forget snacks.

Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah on May 6 began to open trails around the red-rock spires of the Bryce Amphitheater, its most visited area. The main park road and viewpoints along the way will be open from the entrance to Rainbow Point. However, the visitor center, campgrounds, backcountry trails and restrooms remain closed (except for one at Sunset Point), a park announcement said.

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, which straddles Utah and Arizona, will reopen in phases. On May 8, Wahweap Campground was to open and major boat ramps for popular Lake Powell were to open for day use Fridays through Sundays. On May 15, boat rentals are to open (including houseboats, power boats and personal watercraft) and ramps will start opening daily for overnight visitors. On May 21, Lake Powell Resort and Defiance House Lodge are due to open. By May 22, most of Glen Canyon’s 1.25 million acres of lakeside shoreline and hiking trails will be accessible to the public.

Everglades National Park in Florida plans reopened some boat launch ramps, campgrounds and restrooms May 4; Great Smoky Mountain National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee will allow visitors on many roads and trails starting May 9.

The Blue Ridge Parkway, which runs from Tennessee to Virginia, will reopen access to the southernmost 14 miles of the park on May 9. Also, North Carolina portions of the route, including the popular Blowing Rock and Grandfather Mountain areas, will reopen May 15. “While these areas are accessible for visitors to enjoy, a return to full operations will continue to be phased and services may be limited,” a park announcement said.

In Denali National Park, rangers have opened a portion of Denali Park Road, allowing the public into the park again, and NPS officials have said the shortage of cruise visitors this summer could open more room for visitors by car. Several lodges at the end of the park road in the Denali community of Kantishna are making plans to open this summer, an NPS notice said, noting the spring plowing operations “are on schedule to get the road open for summer.”

Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area, in Kentucky and Tennessee, on Monday reopened access to trails and backcountry camping.

Stones River National Battlefield in Tennessee reopened trails connecting to the Stones River Greenway and visitor center parking lot.

Cumberland Island National Seashore in Georgia on Saturday reopened access to its beaches, public docking spaces and trails.

At Zion National Park, a tweet Friday said the park was still closed but “plans for gradually and safely resuming park operations are under way.”

Some parks never officially closed (like Channel Islands). Some, like Yosemite, are such magnets for visitors that superintendents felt obliged to close them relatively early. Still others, like the Grand Canyon, closed later despite heavy visitor traffic.

At other parks, it’s harder to be sure what’s happening when.

Grand Canyon and Yellowstone national parks remain closed. In California, Yosemite, Joshua Tree and Death Valley national parks remain closed.

But in hopes of reopening soon, the Oasis at Death Valley, a privately owned lodging inside that park, is taking reservations for June 15 and beyond.

Grand Teton National Park remains closed, but the Signal Mountain Lodge, on the park’s Jackson Lake, has announced plans to open June 5 through Oct. 17. Not all units will open. The lodge’s website explains that to make distancing possible, the site is mostly relying on units in which guests can cook for themselves, to improve social distancing.

But the lodge’s general store and gift shop are to open for roughly the same dates, with restaurants reduced to a grab-and-go menu. The lodge website says campground operations are expected to proceed as usual.

The islands will keep stay-at-home rules in place to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Meanwhile in the offices of Grand Teton National Park, spokeswoman Denise Germann cautions visitors not to jump to conclusions about the park reopening.

“What we’re looking at is, location by location, as it is deemed safe, parks will begin to reopen,” Germann said. “Any dates that anybody is putting out [from Grand Teton] are ‘no-earlier-than’ dates,” Germann said. “What we’re doing is working with local, regional and national health officials to open when it’s safe to do so.”

The lodge’s management, she said, is “identifying a date so that they can at least communicate with guests.” Lodge management did not immediately return a phone message.

National parks began planning the phased reopenings Thursday after the federal stay-at-home order expired.

The move to begin reopening parks brought complaints from the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks, a group representing 1,800 current, former, and retired employees and volunteers of the National Park Service. The group contends the decision was premature.


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