National parks like the Grand Canyon remain open and free to the public despite calls from frustrated and scared workers to close them
- An Arizona congressman has called on the Grand Canyon National Park to be closed, echoing the fears of people who work at the national park.
- The US National Park Service earlier in March announced it was waiving entrance fees to national parks nationwide, encouraging people to visit them amid calls for social distancing.
- While some parks across the country have closed off certain areas, others have remained open in an attempt to keep people outdoors and practice distancing.
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Arizona Rep. Raúl Grijalva on Friday called on the National Park Service to close the Grand Canyon amid the coronavirus pandemic, though he said the agency had denied his requests to do so.
Grijalva called on the park service to better enforce social-distancing practices recommended by the federal government. The CDC suggested on March 16that all social gatherings should be canceled if they involve more than 10 people.
"It's time for a more serious federal response," Grijalva said, according to The Arizona Republic. "Grand Canyon National Park is a federal facility and federal guidelines need to be enforced, whether it makes some government officials uncomfortable or not."
"It's not something we can mandate. But my preference is always just closing," Grijalva, a Democrat, told the Arizona Republic.
"It's a public issue as well," he added. "The concession is closed. There's no amenities at the park and no guided tours. Nothing's going on. At some point, you know, in deference to the health of the people that work there and the public itself … it just becomes something where you're asking the staff to do too much."
As Insider previously reported, Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt on March 18 directed all national parks to waive entrance fees.
"I've directed the National Park Service to waive entrance fees at parks that remain open. This small step makes it a little easier for the American public to enjoy the outdoors in our incredible National Parks," he said in a press release.
The entrance fee at the Grand Canyon, which sees about six million people each year, is typically $30 per vehicle, according to the park service.
In a post to its website Friday afternoon, the park service said "precautions are being taken" due to the novel coronavirus, though it was not entirely clear what the "precautions" were. The National Park Service did not immediately return an Insider request for comment.
Many portions of the park were listed as open, including Canyon Village Market, Chase Bank, the Grand Canyon Post Office window, the Bright Angel Bicycle Grab & Go Café and Coffee Bar, the Grand Canyon Clinic, and a self-service gas station.
Some areas of the Grand Canyon, though, were listed as closed by the park service, including the Mather Campground, the RV and Camper Services building, which includes laundry, shower, and food facilities, Trailer Village, and the Desert View Campground.
National Park workers are fearful for their safety as parks remain open
The supervisor of Grand Canyon National Park submitted a request to shut down the Grand Canyon, a park staffer told The Washington Post. According to the report, one Grand Canyon staffer reported coming into close contact with 600 visitors in a single day on the park's Bright Angel Trail.
The park staffer said the supervisor's request was approved by the region that oversees the park and had support from the Navajo Nation and Coconino County, though a spokesperson for the park service told The Washington Post that discussions about the park's operation were underway, though no decision had been made.
Dustin Stone, who was an employee at the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park in Skagway, Alaska, quit his job with the park service over frustrations that it remained open during the pandemic.
"I've lived here year-round through eight flu seasons, and I've seen how quickly an infection can spread," he told The Washington Post. "When one of us gets sick, most of us get sick."
Posts on Instagram seemed to indicate that people were visiting the national park as of Saturday, though many posts tagged at the Grand Canyon were likely photos shared from previous trips to the park.
"Social distancing at a nearly empty canyon? pretty grand," one Instagram user wrote in a caption to a photo shared Saturday morning.
While most national parks remain open, some have already closed
Some national parks have already announced closures related to the novel coronavirus. On Friday, the National Park Service announced that Arches and Canyonlands National Parks in Utah would be closed, though three other national parks in Utah remained open.
An entire list of closures and restrictions at national parks nationwide is available on the park service website. Some parks, like Anacostia Park in Washington, DC, for example, remain open, though sites like bathrooms and playgrounds have been closed.
While the National Park Service has not closed parks in the name of distancing, it has encouraged visitors to follow social distancing recommendations when they visit.
State parks across the country are also a mixed bag when it comes to closures. States like Florida and South Carolina have announced the complete closure of state parks. Other states, like Utah, for example, have allowed state parks to remain open but only to visitors who live in the county where the park is located, KSL reported.
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