National Parks Spending Big Bucks to Keep Visitors Safe This Summer
19 Jun, 2020By: Michael Popke
The National Park Service reportedly spent more than $100,000 in new efforts to control the spread of coronavirus at its most popular parks, according to documents obtained by TMZ.com. And with all the virtual events going on this summer, that’s a pretty good thing.
“[T]he agency spent the money on new cleaning supplies, porta-potties, handwashing stations and, get this, even self-cleaning garbage cans!!!,” the site reports in its own, subtlety-free style. “We know these expenses are related to the pandemic because they’re categorized under ‘National Interest Item - COVID-19 2020.’”
According to TMZ.com, Yellowstone National Park reportedly received $48,421 for portable toilets and wash station rentals, while Lake Mead spent $31,536 on pin pads and barcode scanners, Mount Rushmore spent $7,680 on portable toilet needs, the Alaska Regional National Park Office spent $8,677 for cleaning and sanitizing mountain cans, and Arizona’s Agate Bridge spent $5,948 on social distancing landscaping.
Several national parks have reopened in recent weeks, with operations varying park by park. Some campgrounds are operating at 50 percent capacity, while others will remain closed for the season. Even some day passes require online reservations for timed entries, and employees are regularly undergoing coronavirus testing.
“We have been working to safely welcome the public back to their national parks and provide more service again,” U.S. Secretary of the Interior David L. Bernhardt said in a statement. “These treasured places provide respite and recreation for the American people, in addition to vital economic support to gateway communities across the country.”
Indeed, according to an annual National Park Service report released in June, more than 327 million visitors spent $21 billion in communities within 60 miles of a park in the National Park System in 2019. Of the 340,500 jobs supported by visitor spending, more than 278,000 jobs exist in communities adjacent to parks. Last year, visitor spending in communities near national parks resulted in a $41.7 billion benefit to the nation’s economy. In the last five years, visitor spending has increased by $4.1 billion, and the effect on the U.S. economy grew by $9.7 billion.
“Safely increasing access to national parks and other public lands supports individual and collective physical and mental wellness,” National Park Service Deputy Director David Vela said in a statement. “It also benefits park gateway communities where millions of visitors each year find a place to sleep and eat, hire outfitters and guides, and make use of other local services that help drive a vibrant tourism and outdoor recreation industry.”
That said, few visitors were spotted at Yosemite National Park, which reopened June 11 after being closed for 83 days. “Only a few cars were lined up at 5 a.m. when gates were unlocked at the park’s south entrance,” reports The Los Angeles Times. “An hour later, a lone visitor at the usually teeming Tunnel View watched the sun rise over Half Dome and the Sierra. … Visitors lucky enough to get in — you need a day permit, an overnight reservation or a wilderness permit — had the park to themselves, something unthinkable on a typical June day at California’s beloved national park.”
When the crowds come — and they eventually will, insiders predict — the NPS has the legal tools its needs to protect against overcrowding. As journalist Tom Ribe points out on NationalParksTraveler.org: “The National Parks and Recreation Act of 1978 requires the Park Service to establish carrying capacities for all areas, yet few parks have. Local politicians push for maximum visitation to parks to increase business revenues in their states. The National Park Service leadership in Washington has discouraged limiting the number of visitors to parks because of political pressure to maximize commerce in nearby businesses.
“The bottom line: Visiting national parks this summer is dangerous and nobody is going to protect you from the hazards of mixing with potentially sick people from all over the country,” Ribe continues. “Much as the national park rangers would like to protect you, they are not being given the tools or guidance to do that. They are afraid we will give them COVID-19 and we may get it from them.
He backed that assertion up with a quote from Cameron Sholly, Yellowstone’s superintendent. “The NPS is not going to be the social distancing police,” Sholly told Ribe. “Yellowstone staff will not be actively telling citizens to spread out and put masks on, especially outdoors. We don’t have control over massive groups of people.”