National, state parks remain open but cautious amid COVID-19 concerns

Visitors stream into Snow Canyon State Park, Ivins, Utah, March 16, 2020 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — As more and more event and amusement venues shutter doors in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19, people are heading out of doors to recreate and perhaps practice the recommended “social distancing” in more wide-open spaces.

While most state and national parks, as well as some resorts, remain open to the public, they have responded with recommendations and practices for keeping visitors safe and healthy.

National parks and monuments

For the time being, most national parks and monuments, with the exception of those listed here, will remain open to the public.

An infographic detailing proper safety measures during the new coronavirus outbreak, location and date not specified | Image courtesy of the National Park Service, St. George News

“National parks are places people seek out for recreation, reflection and relaxation,” a Facebook post from the National Park Service read.

Following the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Park Service Public Health Service Officers recommend that everyone should take the following routine precautions when visiting national parks and monuments:

  • Avoid close contact with sick people.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
  • Wash with soap and water to destroy the virus. Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds.
  • While an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains 60-95% alcohol can be used, it’s best to reserve those resources for work locations where soap and water are not readily available.
  • If your hands are visibly dirty, soap and water should be used rather than hand sanitizer.
  • As always, it is especially important to clean hands after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces. Regular household cleaners will destroy the virus.
  • The CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a face mask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19.
  • Most importantly, stay home when you are sick to avoid exposing others.

In a press conference held Monday, Utah Senator Mitt Romney said he didn’t want to discourage people from visiting national parks.

“There’s not been a discussion encouraging people not coming to the parks. A self-quarantine doesn’t preclude driving and taking in the beauty of our parks. I wouldn’t want to tell people not to come to our national parks,” Romney said.

While Zion National Park remains open, shuttle services have been temporarily suspended until further notice.

“Visitors will be allowed to drive up the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive until the limited parking in the main canyon has filled. Once parking is full, the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive will be closed and open intermittently as parking spaces become available, most likely between the hours of 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.,” according to a press release from the park.

Zion National Park is taking additional precautions by creating virtual visitor centers in lieu of having staffed buildings, and putting all wilderness permits online.

“Park rangers will be available in real-time to answer phone calls and emails during regular business hours for information and trip planning. There are signs throughout the park with phone numbers and email contact information,” the press release said.

Visitors are encouraged to check with the park’s website or social media sites for the most current information before arriving at the park.

Even though most parks and monuments remain open, some people are urging visitors to avoid smaller national park gateway towns such as Moab, as the crowds put an added strain on their already taxed supplies and hospital capabilities.

A post on the Mountain Bike Enthusiasts of Utah Facebook group page said the following:

I’ve seen a lot of chatter about ‘now is a good time for a road trip to the desert or the national parks!’ And the thing is: It isn’t.

Yes, hanging out in the sprawling expanse of sandstone and sage sounds like an idyllic way to spend your self-quarantine, but it’s incredibly selfish.

The small, rural communities that are the gateways to our favorite outdoor spots are NOT prepared for a spread of this virus.

In a KUER 90.1 report, the Chief Medical Officer at Moab Regional Hospital, Dr. Dylan Cole, said he is urging tourists to stay away from the area and do their part to stop the spread of the virus.

In the report, Cole emphasized that most rural hospitals are not prepared to deal with a coronavirus outbreak. Moab Regional Hospital does not have an intensive care unit and has only three ventilators, the report said.

“My strong concern is that we are greatly increasing the risk of a significant uptick in this viral illness,” Cole said in the KUER story. “We are putting all of our health at risk.”

State parks

Currently, all 44 Utah state parks remain open and fully operational. The state park’s website has added an informational section regarding COVID-19, which will track any park closures or partial closures. Guests who are planning to visit any of the parks are encouraged to check the website before visiting.

The parking lot of the sand dunes in Snow Canyon State Park is full of cars, Ivins, Utah, March 16, 2020 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News

There are no restrictions to Snow Canyon State Park, and as of Monday, crowds were streaming into the park, marking the start of Washington County School District’s spring break and the state’s soft closure of K-12 schools.

Assistant Park Manager Jordan Perez said they advise park visitors to practice good hygiene and avoid visiting parks if they feel ill or are having symptoms.

“Our staff are following suggestions and sanitizing restroom and campground facilities multiple times daily, wiping office surfaces and visitor center counters multiple times daily, practicing good personal hygiene such as washing hands frequently and staying home if they feel they are susceptible to illness due to health conditions given the amount of contact they encounter with the public,” Perez said in an email to St. George News.

National Forests

National Forests are largely following similar protocols to state and national parks.

“Health and human safety for the public, as well as our employees, are the highest priority during this rapidly evolving situation,” Kaibab National Forest Forest Supervisor Heather Provencio said in a press release. “We want to support our communities while continuing the Forest Service mission with minimum exposure to any health risk.”

Still shot from the webcam at the entrance station for Arches National Park around 10:42 a.m., Moab, Utah, March 16, 2020 | Photo courtesy of Arches National Park webcam, St. George News

In addition to taking extra hygiene measures, the Forest Service is asking customers and other stakeholders to minimize personal contact by calling forest offices for assistance rather than coming in person, postponing non-critical business with the Forest Service and practicing “social distancing” when they encounter Forest Service employees in the field, the press release said.

Brian Head Resort

Updated March 17: Brian Head Resort announced that Tuesday will be its last day of operations following which skiing, snowboarding, snow tubing and all other mountain operations and services will close for the season.

As of Sunday, Brian Head Resort said it will remain open to the public. They will continue to monitor the situation very closely and will be following the most current guidance from the CDC and other federal, state and local health authorities.

A press release from the ski resort reiterates that there are currently no confirmed cases of the new coronavirus in Iron County where Brian Head Resort is located. However, they recognized that the situation could change rapidly and without much warning.

“There can be no assurance that the situation will not change, and we could be required to suspend or close operations for the season with little or no advance notice. If we are required to suspend or close operations, all pre-purchased lift tickets, equipment rentals, Winter Sports School lessons and other advance reservations will be 100% refunded,” the press release said.

As with many parks and recreation venues, Brian Head Resort reaffirmed its commitment to taking the necessary steps to keep their employees and guests safe and healthy. Increased cleaning of high-traffic and high-touch areas is being implemented as well as having hand sanitizer located in high-traffic areas for visitor use, where available.

Along with proper hygiene and wellness advice given by health authorities, the resort recommends not riding on a chair lift with anyone from outside visitors’ own groups and maintaining at least six feet of distance between people to help reduce the potential for spreading the infection.

“We remain cautiously optimistic, and believe this is a particularly great time to be outdoors in the fresh, clean mountain air of Southern Utah and enjoying the uncrowded slopes at Brian Head Resort. With good snowpack and recent snowfall, we are expecting excellent spring skiing conditions,” the press release said.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!