As more states begin to open following temporary closures caused by the coronavirus outbreak, the National Park Service has started testing public access at several parks across the United States.
According to The Associated Press, Acting Park Service Director David Vela said visitors planning on heading to the open facilities should be prepared for a “new normal.”
Vela revealed that while several parks will be open, areas inside the borders may still be closed to guests. Rangers are being educated on how to direct visitors as they arrive on the property and what are the expectations once they get there.
To meet the demand from travelers, the National Park Service is increasing staff numbers to patrol trails and roads, host campgrounds and operate visitor centers and museums.
“You may have facilities that aren’t going to be available, but the (park’s) footprint will be. So it will be a different visitor experience, and it will be a different normal that we’re going to need to own and, frankly, mitigate,” Vela told The AP. “This gets to the value and importance of making sure that visitors know what to expect when they get to the park, making sure that visitors go to the park’s website (and) social media … as to what is accessible, how to plan your trip, and, most importantly, what are the expectations when you get there.”
Some of the most popular parks in the U.S. have started partially opening to the public, including Everglades National Park in Florida, Mount Rainier National Park in Washington, Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky and Pinnacles National Park in California.
While travelers are excited to hit the road, some advocacy groups are concerned the openings are coming too soon and could jeopardize the safety of park employees, who will be live on-site and in contact with visitors.
“We are also eager to get Americans back into our national parks. But it is too soon,” The Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks head Phil Francis told The AP. “Parks absolutely should not open until the safety of National Park Service employees, concession employees, volunteers and other partners, including those who work and live in gateway communities, can be ensured.”
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