U.S. national park services and programs have been drastically cut due to coronavirus. But visits just got a whole lot cheaper.

Social distancing is the new normal. So a lot of people have been eyeing national parks as a place to stretch their legs in the outdoors.

Today, Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt directed the National Park Service (NPS) to temporarily suspend the collection of all park entrance fees until further notice.

“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,” Bernhardt said in a press release.

Other states and municipalities have implemented similar policies waiving fees to parks in an effort to support social distancing.

“Our vast public lands that are overseen by the Department offer special outdoor experiences to recreate, embrace nature, and implement some social distancing,” Secretary Bernhardt continued.

At a majority of park locations where it’s currently possible to adhere to public health guidance, outdoor spaces remain open to the public, while many facilities will be closed.

Rural Towns Concerned With Visitor Crowds

As the NPS drops visitor fees, some small towns near popular outdoor destinations are calling for visitors to go home. On Tuesday, Moab, Utah, banned out-of-towners from staying at hotels. It also banned camping at all nearby public, and even private, land. The move aimed to keep visitors, and COVID-19, at bay.

Many other national parks sit near small towns, many of which have limited medical infrastructure and could be easily overrun by potential coronavirus cases. Dr. Dylan Cole, Moab Regional Hospital chief medical officer, even called on the National Park Service to shut down nearby Arches National Park.

“My strong concern is that we are greatly increasing the risk of a significant uptick in this viral illness,” he said. “We are putting all of our health at risk.”

A crowd at Arches National Park
Social Distancing Outdoors

The National Park Service has canceled many programs that would put people in close proximity. Thus, many tours and facilities that would create crowds have shut down.

If you do visit a park, the Department of the Interior and the NPS urge visitors to follow CDC guidance by doing the following:

Maintain a safe distance between yourself and other groups;
Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds;
Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth;
Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze;
And, most importantly, stay home if you feel sick

It also recommends high-risk populations, such as the elderly and people with underlying conditions, take extra precautions to be best protected against the spread of coronavirus.

Updates about the NPS response to the coronavirus will be posted here. Please check with individual parks for specific details about park operations.

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