It’s time to close our national parks

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As much as I hate to admit it, we probably need to close our national parks for a little while.

Right now, the Trump administration has waived entrance fees at national parks in an attempt to allow those who might be struggling a bit financially to get out in the outdoors — one of the few places remaining to go.

The thinking was that visitors would engage in social distancing in these parks and there would not be a major danger to spreading disease.

Unfortunately, this does not seem to be working.

Some parks like the ultra popular Great Smoky Mountains National Park have seen a huge surge in visitors over the past week or two. In fact, it got so bad that Great Smoky Mountains National Park requested permission to close from the Department of Interior (which was granted). Other parks have closed, too. 

Some parks have made some smart moves like closing visitor centers and restrooms but it is still impossible to keep crowds from congregating in certain popular spots within the parks.

For example, many scenic overlooks are often overrun with tourists and it can be virtually impossible to keep a 6 foot distance from everybody in a location like that. Popular hiking routes can also become crowded while people are forced to pass by each other in close proximity.

Considering that half of those infected with the virus may not show symptoms, many people will inevitably be very close to infected individuals and never even have a clue.

My preferred approach would be to take it on a case-by-case basis and only shut down those parks that have an extreme amount of visitors. That is the approach the government is currently taking but it doesn’t seem to be working out perfectly.

For example, a park like the Grand Canyon National Park is not an ideal spot to keep open right now especially because people like to just hang out at the lookout spots. Yet, it is still open.

The other problem is that keeping these open could contribute to the strain on hospitals. Accidents happen while exploring national parks and so closing them down could be a way to cut down on hospital visits.

Also, and probably much more importantly, many national parks are located far away from major hospitals and if people were to come down with serious illnesses they might be stuck with subpar care or a lack of facilities. Those small clinics within the national parks are not designed to deal with outbreaks and we have seen clusters of outbreaks cripple small communities.

I have a feeling that we are going to see some new decisions made or guidelines put out in the next couple of days regarding our parks. As much as I would love for them to remain open, in many cases I don’t think it is a smart health decision for right now.


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