Rocky Mountain, Yosemite, King Canyon, and Sequoia national parks have closed to prevent the spread of coronavirus. All trails, roads, and facilities are closed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The California parks shut down Friday afternoon and Rocky Mountain in Colorado followed a few hours later at the request of the local community.
“A continued influx of visitors at this critical time presents a grave public health concern to Estes Park and surrounding communities,” Estes Park Mayor Todd Jirsa wrote in a letter to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt. “The Larimer County public health director has formally advised us to encourage visitors not to travel through Larimer County to Estes Park. We have an older, high-risk population with many retirees and limited critical resources.”
In a news release, Rocky Mountain stated, “The health and safety of our visitors, employees, volunteers, and partners at Rocky Mountain National Park is our number one priority. The National Park Service (NPS) is working with the federal, state, and local authorities to closely monitor the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) situation. We will notify the public when we resume full operations and provide updates on our website and social media channels.”
The plea from Estes Park follows requests from many other rural communities for visitors to stay home. Yesterday, AJ received an email from a friend in Bishop, California, who summed up the situation facing small towns throughout the country:
“We are being INUNDATED by people who are off work/working remotely/etc due to COVID-19. As a town we are doing our best to discourage visitors, but we need a hand getting the word out that people SHOULD NOT come visit. We can’t handle any extras right now, we have a large elder population and an extremely small hospital. We love our climbers, hikers, skiers, and adventurers, but we could really use some help encouraging people to stay home instead of viewing this as an opportunity to vacation.“
Last week, the National Public Radio program 1A covered the challenges facing the community of Crested Butte, Colorado, simply to serve its own residents, let alone visitors who get sick. A little west of there in Utah, for example, Moab’s hospital only has 17 beds and no intensive-case unit.
South of Moab, in Bluff, the Friends of Cedar Mesa released a statement that said, “This flood of visitors negatively impacts the sensitive landscape we strive to protect, but even more importantly, in a time of great uncertainty, an increase in visitation has the potential to put remote gateway communities at risk.”
Please do not think about poaching or getting some personal “social distancing” in one of those park’s backcountries. Despite the predictable ignorant response by some people to the Rocky Mountain closure—complaining about tyranny and government control—now is not the time to place additional pressure on already-taxed towns and counties. People in California, Illinois, and New York, as well as a handful of counties in other states, have been ordered to shelter in place, but that’s what everyone should be doing. The most powerful weapon we have against coronavirus is not to spread it or catch it by staying at home until the dust clears.
I know we all have our own challenges and fears, but whether it’s weeks, months, or longer, staying home is about the least painful way to fight this war. And if we all do it right now, we can buy desperately needed time for hospitals, health care workers, and government agencies to build up the supplies they need and “flatten the curve.”
AJ will continue to report the issues and keep you connected to our mutual passions every day here on AJ and through our social channels—always for free. If you want magazines to read or notebooks to scribble in, we can ship them directly from AJHQ, a.k.a., our house. If you need our Netflix password to watch The Office on loop, just ask. We’re here for you however we can be—but please stay home. It will save lives, maybe yours.
Photo by Jacob W. Frank/Rocky Mountain National Park