HURRICANE, Utah (ABC4 News) — It’s the unofficial start of summer and Utah’s boating season.
Memorial Day weekend typically draws thousands of locals and tourists to Southern Utah’s national and state parks; but, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Utah State Parks officials say they’re anticipating even bigger crowds than normal this year, asking that visitors stay patient and manage their expectations.
Whether you’re heading to Sand Hollow State Park or Zion National Park, park managers say there will be a number of parks that will most likely reach capacity in the early mornings Saturday through Monday.
With hundreds of tourists from California, Nevada, and Arizona continuing to flock to Southern Utah, state park officials say it’s not exactly business as usual: they’ll be emphasizing the importance of social distancing, monitoring and breaking up crowded areas, and restricting the number of visitors.
“Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, we expect an increase in visitation at our state parks,” Sand Hollow State Park Manager Jonathan Hunt said. “I want to remind people that there is only one entrance to Sand Hollow through the main gates.
He added, “We don’t want people parking in neighborhoods and trying to find a different entrance to the park. We will try to allow in as many people as we can.”
Hunt tells ABC4 News that safety is on his mind this Memorial Day weekend, not only because of COVID-19 concerns but also due to expected high winds. He says that could lead to drownings or rescues, especially of those who may be pulled from shore on inflatable rafts or kayaks.
“The water is still cold, so please wear life jackets. Most of our drownings could’ve been prevented with life jackets,” Hunt added.
Park rangers at Zion National Park say that in past years, the four-day weekend has drawn 80,000 visitors; but, since the shuttle is not operating, staff anticipate the park’s 400 parking spots will fill early in the mornings.
“As much as folks love Zion, this may not be the best time to come just because so many people want to be here,” said Jeff Axel, spokesperson for Zion National Park.
Unless people are staying at the Zion Lodge or Watchman campground, the park is still open for day use only.
Officials ask that visitors check park websites and social media pages for updates on closures.