Yellowstone and Grand Canyon Re-Open – But Can Public Parks Safely Meet Increasing Users?

Tourists at Yellowstone’s Old Faithful in 2014    Photo: Jim Urquhart, Reuters

More of the most famous and most visited National Parks are beginning to re-open as summer tourist season looms, but they will open sections of the parks in phases, with concessions and other public spaces also re-opening within the open areas, but there is no requirement for visitors to wear masks and practice social distancing. As public parks are re-opening more generally, with increasing demand from the public to be outdoors — parks are getting overcrowded and turning out not to be as safe a place to socially distance as people expect.

Why This Matters: What the pandemic and social distancing requirements are revealing is that many communities do not have enough park and open space — both large cities and suburbs.  This is a symptom of the larger global problem of loss of nature and the natural world, and now perhaps the public is beginning to appreciate just how valuable the nation’s park system — our greatest idea — is to our economies and to our overall well being.  But going forward, we need even more land preserved for parks and protection and that is why the Land and Water Conservation Fund should be fully funded in perpetuity.

Yellowstone Phased Re-Opening

E&E News reported that 70% of the visitors come through three gates in Montana, and those won’t open until June 1 in order to help communities near Yellowstone get ready for an influx of visitors.  The other 30% of visitors go through two entrances in Wyoming and those will open on Monday, but the public can only visit the southern half of the park — including the Old Faithful geyser and popular thermal features nearby at first, and then only for day use.

Grand Canyon Reopening Today

Grand Canyon National Park has a limited and temporary reopening and will allow visitors to access some parts of the South Rim viewpoints, the National Park Service (NPS) announced yesterday. The Hill reported that park visitors can enter picnic areas, restrooms, and some viewpoints, but the hours are limited to 6-10 a.m. Friday through Monday, May 18 and can remain in the park for the day but they will be “encouraged” to leave by sunset.

Land and Water Conservation Fund Creates Parks

The Land and Water Conservation Fund monies are used to protect national parks, areas around rivers and lakes, national forests, and national wildlife refuges from development, and to provide matching grants for state and local parks and recreation projects.   But there are too few parks in some parts of the country.  A study by a major think tank found that in the country’s 100 largest cities, only half of the residents live within a half-mile of a park, and that is especially true for communities of color and low-income groups, where neighborhoods lack public spaces to exercise, relax, gather, or simply breathe clean air.  And as we have seen earlier when the National Parks remained open even as the communities in which they were located started to close down, the National Parks are extremely popular and crowded.  Indeed, visits to national parks have seen a 15% increase in the last ten years, but funding grew by less than .5% in real terms, creating a $12 billion repair backlog.

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