With Bernhardt’s blessing, superintendents shut down

By Rob Hotakainen | 03/18/2020 01:25 PM EDT

Yellowstone National Park closed the Albright Visitor Center in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Yellowstone National Park closed the Albright Visitor Center in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Jim Peaco/National Park Service

Superintendents at more than 100 national park sites across the country have shuttered visitor centers and other facilities after getting permission from Washington to do so.

The list includes some of the largest and most popular sites in the National Park Service, including Yellowstone in Wyoming and Montana, Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee, Glacier in Montana, Rocky Mountain in Colorado, Yosemite in California and Olympic in Washington state.

The newest round of closings came after Interior Secretary David Bernhardt yesterday gave park superintendents the green light to respond as they see fit to stop the spread of the coronavirus pandemic (Greenwire, March 17).


Under his order, Bernhardt said superintendents at the park service’s 419 sites had been "empowered to modify their operations, including closing facilities and canceling programs."

Yellowstone officials said this morning they would immediately close the Albright Visitor Center and Boiling River soaking and swimming area, but they urged visitors to enjoy the park online, via webcams or virtual tours.

The closings were not expected to hit Yellowstone as hard as other parks.

"Unlike other national parks around the country that are in the midst of their busy seasons, Yellowstone is plowing roads to get ready for spring opening as it does every year at this time," the park said in a statement. "Most roads and facilities are not scheduled to open until April 17 through early June. … As of now, the park intends to maintain the regular opening schedule."

The other sites set to close facilities today included the National Prisoner of War Museum at Andersonville National Historic Site in Georgia, Gateway Arch National Park in Missouri, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area in Utah, the Grand Portage National Monument in Minnesota, Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie National Historical Park and the Cowpens National Battlefield in South Carolina, Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky, Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota, the NPS Chesapeake Bay Office in Maryland, and Virgin Islands National Park.

While many parks said they would try to remain open even if they closed their facilities, health officials were trying to keep visitors away from Moab, Utah, the city that’s home to Arches and Canyonlands national parks.

The Associated Press reported that officials there have issued an order barring anyone except work travelers and locals from overnight lodging, including camping. Officials said that congregating in crowded spots could spread the virus and that the Moab Regional Hospital was not equipped to treat large numbers of people if they become sick. The order came a day after the local hospital staff pleaded with Gov. Gary Herbert (R) to reduce tourist traffic.

Other park sites that announced closures include San Antonio Missions National Historical Park in Texas, Charles Pinckney National Historic Site and Reconstruction Era National Historical Park in South Carolina, the Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Nevada, Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico, the Cabrillo National Monument and Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area in California, Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas, the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, Haleakalā National Park and Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii, the Colorado National Monument, the Manhattan Project National Historical Park in Tennessee, Pipe Spring National Monument in Arizona, Cape Hatteras National Seashore and Wright Brothers National Memorial in North Carolina, and the Harry S Truman National Historic Site in Missouri.

Several NPS sites in the District of Columbia closed over the weekend, including the Washington Monument, Ford’s Theatre, the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality Monument and the Old Post Office Tower. The Statue of Liberty National Monument in New York closed Monday (Greenwire, March 16).

With so many park sites and facilities closed, the park service is advising the public to check with individual parks before trying to visit.