- The Washington Times - Monday, April 27, 2020

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt announced Sunday that the department plans to reopen the national parks, most of which were shuttered at least partially for the coronavirus lockdown, “as rapidly as possible.”

He cited President Trump’s unveiling last week of the Opening Up America Again guidelines, which seek to assist state and local officials in “safely reopening their economies, getting people back to work and continuing to protect American lives.”

“In accordance with this guidance and in coordination with governors across the country, the Department of the Interior and the National Park Service are working to reopen the American people’s national parks as rapidly as possible,” Mr. Bernhardt said in a statement.

Operations at most of the 62 national parks run by the NPS have been suspended or limited since March 17 to promote social distancing and protect the health of visitors and employees, the agency said.

That includes some of the nation’s biggest annual attractions, including Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming and Yosemite National Park in California, which were completely closed, according to a list on National Parks Traveler.

Others have seen their visitors’ centers, park stores and campgrounds shut down while most of the grounds remained open for day visits.

Interior spokesman Nicholas Goodwin said that 34 of the 62 parks remain “accessible to the public,” while 260 of the 419 NPS “units,” which include national monuments, have kept open some outdoor areas subject to federal and local social-distancing rules and recommendations.

Every park has made modifications in its operations to comply with Centers for Disease Control guidelines, he added.

“The health and safety of our visitors, employees, volunteers and partners continues to be paramount,” Mr. Bernhardt said. “Across the 500 million acres of public lands stewarded by the Department of the Interior, an overwhelming majority of these lands have remained safely accessible to the American public.”

At least one site, Virgin Islands National Park in St. John, reopened its beaches, trails and parking areas on April 20 after closing those areas on April 6.

“I am pleased to reopen these areas of the park so that visitors can again experience their park lands and waters,” said Virgin Islands National Park Superintendent Nigel Fields in a statement. “Visiting natural places is important for our wellbeing, especially so during this challenging time.”

Mr. Bernhardt noted that last week was National Park Week, which the agency marked with virtual tours and other online activities.

“President Trump recognizes the magnificence and grandeur of our National Park System and our ability to restore access to these lands in a safe manner,” Mr. Bernhardt said. “As National Park Week draws to an end, it is time the American people once again enjoy the incredible benefits of the great outdoors at our national parks, and we will be making that happen while working with our nation’s governors!”

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