Grand Canyon National Park officials did not respond to requests this week for comment. The National Park Service said in a statement Monday it has not yet made a decision on whether to close the park. “Discussions and evaluations of park conditions and operations remain ongoing, using the decision factors the NPS has been consistently applying to all operations,” the statement said. An internal memo to employees of the park said a call from the Grand Canyon’s acting superintendent for closing the park was supported by the director and regional director of the National Park Service.
The Trump administration has left parts of Grand Canyon National Park open despite the presence of #Coronavirus in the community. Other public areas remain open as well and tribal leaders and key members of Congress want them closed. #COVID19 https://t.co/hvtFbrmuXY— indianz.com (@indianz) March 31, 2020
Tim Whitehouse, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, said his organization is hearing complaints from park staff about “leaderless direction” from the National Park Service. Park staff have also said they have been instructed not to talk about COVID-19 publicly, he said. “There seems to be no leadership in the National Park Service about the issue of COVID-19,” Whitehouse said. “There seems to be no understanding that the national parks need to be shut down.” The lawmakers’ letter follows calls by Navajo Nation and Coconino County to close the park in the face of the coronavirus, and comes as the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in nearby Grand Canyon Village. The Navajo had reported 148 confirmed coronavirus cases and five deaths as of Monday, while Coconino County had 81 confirmed cases of the disease as of Tuesday.
Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez addressed the issue earlier. "We're working hard to close the Grand Canyon," he said, citing concerns about outsiders bringing #Coronavirus to reservation, which has been deeply affected by #COVID19. @NNPrezNez #Arizona https://t.co/ZANPAR4wc2— indianz.com (@indianz) March 31, 2020
The letter to Bernhardt said that because many national parks are located in rural areas, like Coconino County, a COVID-19 outbreak could easily overwhelm local hospitals. “Warnings on the National Park Service website and the closure of some park facilities have not proven sufficient to protect public health, prompting grave concerns from federal employees and the local communities nearest our public lands,” the letter reads. In recent days, the park has modified its operations in response to the coronavirus pandemic, closing campgrounds, hotels, tours, visitor centers, museums, shuttles and river trips among other changes. Currently, a market, a bank, a post office window, a cafe, a clinic and a self-serve gas station are the services that remain open in some capacity.
While county officials have called for the park’s closing, city officials in Tusayan – which sits at the entrance to the park – said Tuesday they have not taken an official stance. In nearby Williams, City Manager Chase Waggoner said the Williams Visitor Center has seen less than a third of the patrons this month than it saw in March 2019. Visitors have fallen from 350 on an average day to about 20 per day now. “You can just see the tourists aren’t there,” Waggoner said. “Now we have a handful of people from Phoenix and Albuquerque and that’s it.”
Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez: "One confirmed death is one way too many but five here are our relatives who have gone home to the Creator." Navajo Nation Town Hall is LIVE now. #COVID19 #Coronavirus @NNPrezNez https://t.co/ZANPAR4wc2— indianz.com (@indianz) March 31, 2020
COVID-19 Townhall Update
Posted by Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer on Tuesday, March 31, 2020
Note: This story originally appeared on Cronkite News and is published via a Creative Commons license. Cronkite News is produced by the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.