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Hovenweep, Natural Bridges close; Springdale wants Zion to shut down

Grand Canyon closes after Arizona officials raise health concerns

Twin Towers sit along the rim of Little Ruin Canyon in Hovenweep National Monument.
Twin Towers sit along the rim of Little Ruin Canyon in Hovenweep National Monument.
Deseret News archives

SALT LAKE CITY — Fear of coronavirus spread is taking its toll on some of Utah’s most geographically stunning places, prompting new closures of Hovenweep and Natural Bridges national monuments and leading Springdale officials to plead for Zion National Park to shutter as well.

“Nobody knows how tough that decision is,” said Springdale Mayor Stan Smith, discussing the request for closure.

Zion National Park is Utah’s most popular destination among the state’s national parks, drawing millions of visitors each year.

Smith said visitors continue to stream into the park and are not practicing social distancing.

Residents of nearby communities have started pleading with Springdale leaders to do something to urge the park closure after seeing unsafe practices in the park.

Smith said his response is always: “Why are you up in the park?”

The mayor was reviewing the draft of his letter asking for the park closure that was approved by elected officials in an online meeting Tuesday.

After it gets approval from the town’s legal department, Smith said he will deliver it to the park superintendent — likely on Monday after it goes through the reviews.

On Wednesday the National Park Service said in a news release it immediately closed Grand Canyon National Park after receiving a letter from the Health and Human Services director for Coconino County in Arizona recommending the full closure of the park.

”The Department of the Interior and the National Park Service will continue to follow the guidance of state and local health officials in making determinations about our operations,” Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said in the release.

Smith emphasized he doesn’t believe the closure of Zion will eliminate all risks because motorists can still drive through the park and likely disobey the rules, like they did during the federal government’s shutdown of parks several years ago.

On Wednesday, the southeast Utah system of national parks closed Hovenweep and Natural Bridges to all visitors. Park officials said all vehicles, bikes and pedestrians are prohibited from entering any park areas, including campgrounds, trails, backcountry and roads.

“Any recreational use of the parks is in violation of this closure. We regret any inconvenience or hardship this may cause,” park officials said in a statement.

Last week, Canyonlands and Arches were closed after the Southeast Utah Health Department, the regional hospital, Grand County Council and the Moab City Council all pleaded with national park officials to shutter them for fear of coronavirus spread and its impact on limited medical resources.