SALT LAKE CITY — U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday issued a call for the country’s national parks to reopen, including Utah’s Mighty Five that were shuttered due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Utah’s national parks were closed after pleas from regional health departments and local communities concerned about the lack of social distancing and limited health care services in rural areas.
In reaction, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert issued a statement that said Trump’s reasoning falls in line with his decision last week to reopen state parks to all visitors, not just confining those locations to residents who live in counties where the parks are located.
“Following our announcement last week to reopen state parks to all visitors, I support a safe and structured reopening of Utah’s five national parks and other national recreation areas. We look forward to working with local health departments in finalizing plans to safely get people back into Utah’s own Mighty Five,” Herbert said.
Still, Herbert stressed the need to adhere to national guidelines to prevent further spread of the virus.
“I encourage Utahns to recreate responsibly. Stay close to home and practice safe social distancing. Give others at least 6 feet of separation on trails, golf courses, fishing docks, overlooks and other areas. Avoid unnecessary risks that may result in hospitalizations,” he said. “Do not congregate at trailheads and other popular common areas. Stay home if you’re sick or have symptoms of the coronavirus. Keep parks and recreation areas clean by packing out what you pack in, and respect facility closures like visitor centers, campgrounds and restrooms.”
The announcement by Trump comes as states are starting to relax restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Thanks to our significant progress against the invisible enemy, I am pleased to announce that in line with my administration’s guidelines for opening up America again we will begin to reopen our national parks and public lands for the American people to enjoy,” Trump said during a tree planting ceremony at the White House recognizing Earth Day.
Many of the nation’s most popular parks were shut down due to the virus, including Utah’s Zion National Park — which draws the most visitors in the state — as well as Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton and Grand Canyon.
The move by Trump to begin reopening parks drew criticism, however.
“We understand that the president is eager to reopen our national parks and we share that sentiment. However, parks should not open before the safety of National Park Service employees, concessionaires, volunteers and other partners, including those in gateway communities, can be ensured,” said Phil Francis, chairman of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks. “And not before we have the necessary capacity to protect our resources. This includes adequate staff, personal protective equipment and employee training. There must be systemwide and individual park plans in place, made available to the public, that can be executed prior to reopening.”
The U.S. Department of Interior said it would work with individual states and national parks on operational guidelines for the gradual openings to ensure proper public safety.