SPRINGDALE (ABC4 News) – Utah Gov. Gary Herbert announced this week he’s backing President Trump’s plan to reopen national parks to visitors — but national park advocates are calling the decision “irresponsible.”
Herbert said outdoor recreation is a “great way to relieve stress and anxiety” during these difficult times and he says he looks forward to working with local health departments and finalizing plans to safely re-open Utah’s own Mighty Five. His statement reads in part: “We cannot, however, relax our efforts to practice social distancing and responsible recreation. By working together, I believe we can safely reopen these areas.”
The Coalition to Protect Americas National Parks, representing more than 2000 current and former employees of the National Park Service, tells ABC4 News protecting public health and safety during the COVID-19 crisis must be the top priority.
“I think there will be great demand on the parks, and I wonder has the situation really changed since the parks were closed?” said Phil Francis, chairman of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks.
Francis said NPS nor the Department of the Interior have revealed how many park employees have tested positive and expressed concerns about adequate staffing and personal protective equipment for all park staff.
St. George Mayor Jon Pike was one of several public officials in Southern Utah to urge the state to shut down Zion, after learning an estimated 60% of visitors were from out-of-state during the onset of the pandemic.
“It’s just so important to do as much as we can to keep people safe and keep them at home during this critical time,” Pike told ABC4 News in early April, adding that Zion’s superintendent told him he wished the park would close and his employees were concerned.
The Southwest Utah Public Health Department told ABC4 News discussions for re-opening Zion are occurring, but no timeline or details are being released at this point.