After a woefully delayed, sluggish decision to finally close down the crowded parts of parks during the deteriorating coronavirus pandemic, the National Park Service said Wednesday it would now waive entrance fees during the crisis.
Entrance fees are suspended indeterminately at parks that remain open. As former Park Service director Jon Jarvis told Mashable on Monday, it’s critical to keep parks open right now, to provide us the open space we need to escape increasingly necessary, but severe, social distancing guidance — which often means staying inside when we’re in our communities.
Importantly, the agency has given parks the ability to close down their crowded, problematic areas — namely, visitor centers where people congregate. Social distancing means staying six feet away from people, according to the CDC. The health agency now recommends canceling all mass gatherings to limit the spread of coronavirus infection, which leads to the respiratory disease COVID-19.
What’s more, suspending entrance fees means the public doesn’t need to interact and exchange money with a park employee.
Every national park site (of which there are 419) is, of course, different, meaning not all parks can stay open. For example, Pearl Harbor National Memorial, where a boat ferries visitors to a floating memorial over the sunken USS Arizona, prudently closed.
But many parks can stay open (like Point Reyes National Seashore), while certain visitor centers and fee stations close, because these open-air parks are mostly conserved swathes of the great outdoors. As Jarvis said, unless there’s a severe local outbreak near a park or local restrictions on traveling, these open places can be an asset during these unsettling times.
It’s unknown how long parks will remain free. But infectious disease experts expect coronavirus to continue spreading, and for society to likely be dramatically disrupted for at least months. A vaccine is still, at minimum, a year away.
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