Most national parks are open as a refuge for Americans tired of being stuck at home during a global pandemic, but despite now being free to visit, people may find it more difficult than normal to enjoy them as parks close visitor centers, shuttles, lodges and restaurants to fight the spread of the coronavirus.
Parks are trying to keep up with ever-changing rules and recommendations from government officials who are urging people to avoid gathering in large groups but allowing them to get outside for fresh air and exercise as long as they keep their distance from others. The National Park Service says it's adhering to the latest guidelines from the White House and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, vowing to keep outdoor spaces open while giving park superintendents the power to close or modify operations.
(A sign at the National Park Inn at Longmire offers food orders to-go from the inn's restaurant at Mount Rainier National Park, Wednesday, March 18, 2020, in Washington state. Photo: AP/Ted S. Warren)
Interior Secretary David Bernhardt on Wednesday temporarily waived National Park Service entrance fees to make it easier for people to get outdoors and “implement some social distancing."
Nationally, park superintendents are devising ways to stay open while keeping people at safe distances from one another and trying to ensure park employees stay healthy. Many parks closed visitor centers, museums and entrance booths while rangers are stationed outside to field visitors' questions. Though rangers are working, some parks warned people to be extra cautious and prepared, especially in places with wintry weather, because resources are strained amid the pandemic and rescues may be more difficult.
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