Cronkite NewsPristow’s letter said.
Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said the decision to close the park came “as soon as we received the letter.” The park was closed immediately and will remain closed indefinitely, he said in a press release. “The Department of the Interior and the National Park Service will continue to follow the guidance of state and local health officials in making determinations about our operations,” Bernhardt’s statement said. But Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson, who had joined others urging the park’s closure, called Bernhardt’s explanation “absurd on its face,” noting that Pristow sent a similarly urgent letter Friday. He said “any competent authority would take notice and act immediately.” “Instead, the Interior Department delayed for nearly a week while the governor remained silent,” Grijalva said in a statement Tuesday. “Secretary Bernhardt can’t blame anyone else for his inability to make the obvious and necessary decision.” The Grand Canyon drew 6.3 million visitors who spent $947 million in the region in 2018, according to a National Park Service report last year. It said tourism to the park generated $1.2 billion in total economic activity and supported more than 12,000 jobs in the region. Despite the potential economic hit, an official with the Grand Canyon Chamber of Commerce and Visitors welcomed the closure. “I know for the safety of the residents, we’re happy that we’ve gotten to this point,” said Laura Chastain, the visitors bureau spokesperson. “Just wish it would have happened sooner.” Tusayan Vice Mayor Brady Harris said he respects the “difficult decision” to temporarily close the park, “given the rapid spread of COVID-19.” “It was made with the best interest of our residents in the surrounding community, by closing the Grand Canyon National Park,” Harris said. “I hope that the spread of this virus will be curved, allowing us to return back to normal as quickly and safely as possible.”
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
Calls for the park’s closure had been made by Coconino County officials and the Navajo Nation, among others. They were joined Tuesday by 10 members of Congress, including three from Arizona, who urged Bernhardt to close the park, citing public health and safety concerns. The lawmakers’s letter said that in one day on a popular Grand Canyon trail, a park ranger “had 600 contacts with visitors.” Rep. Tom O’Halleran, D-Sedona, who signed the letter, said Wednesday he was glad to see Park Service leadership listened to concerns from members of Congress and others. “While I am committed to protecting our public lands and ensuring that they are accessible to all Americans, the health and safety of my constituents is my top priority,” O’Halleran said in a press release following the closure announcement. “I believe that this is the correct course of action.”
News Release: April 1, 2020 -Grand Canyon National Park Closed: https://t.co/hB6UOcmRw2 #GrandCanyon #Arizona #Closure #coronavirus pic.twitter.com/KTk5yB7kSi— Grand Canyon NPS (@GrandCanyonNPS) April 2, 2020
While the park itself is closed, Chastain said she hopes people take advantage of digital park viewing tools during this time to “virtually” visit. “We still have different videos we’ve created over the years that will allow people to still see a national treasure, even if we are closed for the safety of everyone,” she said. For more stories from Cronkite News, visit cronkitenews.azpbs.org.
“We simply cannot afford additional outbreaks among our Navajo people,” Jonathan Nez, president of the Navajo Nation,...Posted by Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer on Wednesday, April 1, 2020
Note: This story is part of Elemental: Covering Sustainability, a new multimedia collaboration between Cronkite News, Arizona PBS, KJZZ, KPCC, Rocky Mountain PBS and PBS SoCal. It 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.
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