- The Washington Times - Monday, April 13, 2020

The Grand Canyon is closed.

There can be no “reflection” atop the Montana mound where Custer made his last stand. America’s largest subtropical wilderness — the Everglades — is open only to the wild.

With more than 40 states having imposed sweeping lockdowns in response to COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, the opportunities Americans have to enjoy the outdoors have dwindled.

In Colorado, the monthly average high temperature has crept up to 59 degrees, but outdoors people haven’t been able to trade in their skis for pitons.

“They don’t want anyone participating in any high-risk activities, and I don’t,” said William Handelsman, 25, a paramedic and avid climber in Boulder. “I’m just going to my own little hole in the wall spots, where there are some people but you are spaced out. Normally at places you’d be sharing climbs with one another, but this is just stretching a rope. Nothing big, nothing difficult.”

The National Park Service has modified its operations on a “park-by-park basis” with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state and local public health departments.

State parks, meanwhile, are being handled by the nation’s governors. In many cases, such as in New Jersey, they have all been closed. So, while the average monthly high in the state jumps 12 degrees to 62 in April, hikes in places such as the Delaware Water Gap are out.

Closing national parks is a more complicated matter than state parks, and making the decision usually involves state and federal officials, as the Grand Canyon’s closing announcement made clear.

The National Park Service has closed most facilities in the parks and has canceled events, but it reassuringly says that “some parks remain accessible to the public,” telling website users to check with individual parks before venturing out.

Tension has built between some workers in the parks that are still open and the National Park Service, which is navigating a line between trying to “offer a refuge” for people and abiding by coronavirus mitigation measures.

“The health and safety or National Park Service (NPS) visitors, employees, volunteers and partners is our number one priority,” the NPS public affairs office said when asked about possible tension.

While most of the park system’s crown jewels, such as Yosemite and Yellowstone, are completely shut down, the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks thinks all of them should shutter, and the group opposed the Department of Interior’s decision in March to waive entrance fees.

“I wish I had a list,” said Phil Francis, the Coalition’s chairman, when asked about the status of the 419 parks. “One of the problems is we don’t have uniformity and unfortunately you can’t tailor something for each park.

“So instead what’s happened is they’ve delegated it to the superintendents to close,” Mr. Francis said.

Consequently, although the average April high in the Everglades is 85 degrees, there will be no kayaking or camping there. The temperature around Mt. Katahdin in Maine may have climbed to a brisk 42 degrees, Baxter State Park is closed so there’s no climbing on the Knife’s Edge there. While one can still drive Highway 62 in Oregon, the governor has ordered Crater Lake closed.

For a time, some of the top attractions remained open. For instance, Mr. Handelsman visited the Grand Canyon’s southern rim in early March and described it as “a ghost town.”

But while parks are closed, or the public facilities in parks are closed, “in all cases, park rangers remain on duty protecting the parks, and normal rules and regulations continue to apply,” the park service says.

For state parks, the situation is largely the same.

The Gunks, as climbers call them, are a famous rock formation in New York state and are formally known as Mohonk Preserve. The Gunks are closed, too.

“Climbing areas that are part of the state park here are closed although the park itself is open,” said Dave Morgan, a devoted climber who lives outside the preserve.

“Most climbing communities across the country have urged climbers from other parts of the country not to visit during the crisis as they risk bringing infection in and stressing the local medical resources which for most rural climbing communities are very small,” Mr. Morgan said. “As far as how far it will go when things open up, climbing can be a pretty solitary thing between partners so social distancing shouldn’t be a problem.”

A virtual park experience — “Choose Your Own Park Adventure” — is being offered by the National Park Trust. There, the cartoon character Buddy Bison will lead kids on a “tour” of a variety of places including the volcanoes on Hawaii and the white sand beaches of the U.S. Virgin Islands.

For the moment, however, even those with cabin fever who want to gaze on the West will find one of the best vantage points has gone dark.

“We are here and we are thinking of you,” the Gateway Arch in St. Louis posted on its Facebook page Thursday. “We can’t wait to welcome you back.”

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