Secretary of the Interior
I am writing to you with a simple but critically important request: Please close national parks immediately. Many of America’s greatest parks have already shuttered facilities or paused some of their services, like ranger-guided tours or the canyon shuttle in Zion National Park, and four of the most-popular western parks—Rocky Mountain, Yosemite, Sequoia, and Kings Canyon—have already closed in effort to prevent the spread of coronavirus. For the first time in 50 years, the Grand Canyon is closed to river running. Several dozen NPS units, from Canaveral National Seashore in Florida to Haleakalā National Park in Hawaii, are also closed. Yet the vast majority remain open, without fees.
Now is not the time for national parks to be encouraging travel and visitation. As you know, our single greatest weapon against the spread of coronavirus is to shelter in place and avoid contact with others. Encouraging people to visit the rural communities where many parks are located, even tacitly by waiving entrance fees, will expose local residents to greater risk of contracting the virus and place their already bare-bones medical infrastructure to even greater stress.
I urge you to listen to your own employees, like Dustin Stone at the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park in Skagway, Alaska, who resigned last week in protest over what he saw as an inadequate response by the Park Service to the coronavirus crisis.
“During a time of national pandemic we are spending time sitting around and debating and arguing and hemming and hawing about what’s right,” Stone wrote, “when the right thing to do is send your employees home, close your parks, and figure out what comes next.”
As a publication founded on the commitment to open access to the outdoors, it is dismaying that we feel compelled to argue for any kind of closure to public lands. But there are just 62 national parks (and 400-plus units in the system). Whether you close all of them or only those that are the biggest magnets, Americans still have access to most of their national forests, to wild and scenic rivers, Bureau of Land Management lands, and state, county, and municipal parks.
In this time of crisis, we need leadership and strong actions. Closing the parks will deliver a powerful message to all Americans of the severity of the situation and the importance of the simple yet effective tactic of just staying home. Major sports leagues woke people up to the stakes when they suspended their seasons several weeks ago. You have the power and the platform to make an even more impactful statement, and most important to save lives. It won’t be forever, and it might not need to be for long, but please, for the safety of your employees, people who live near parks, and all other Americans, close them now.
Photo of Grand Canyon by Mark Boss