Tensions Growing Within National Park Service Over Coronavirus Pandemic ~ National Parks Traveler

By Kurt Repanshek on March 15th, 2020


Tensions are rising among Park Service staff over how the coronavirus situation is being managed by Washington/Rebecca Latson file

Editor’s note: This updates with precautions against coronavirus being taken at Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Though a few more units of the National Park System were closing Sunday in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, and outwardly it was business as usual across the National Park System on Sunday, behind the scenes tensions were growing over the situation.

The official list of closures Sunday included Alcatraz Island, Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center, Lands End Lookout, the Nike Missile site, Point Bonita Lighthouse, and the Muir Woods National Monument bookstore and entrance station at Golden Gate National Recreation Area; Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument, Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site, the Old Post Office Tower, and the Washington Monument. On Monday the list was to expand to include the Presidio Visitor Center, the Marin Headlands Visitor Center, and Fort Point National Historic Site, all at Golden Gate.

National Park Service officials in Washington, D.C., continued to point to the statement that their Office of Public Health was continuing to monitor the situation and was in contact with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as to how to move forward.

“Visitors can be  assured that  facilities and services in national parks, including lodges, restaurants, and shuttles, continue to monitor conditions and maintain high standards related to the health and wellness of  staff and visitors,” read a statement on the Park Service’s Public Health website. “Park and concession staff are working to maintain clean and healthy facilities in parks in accordance with CDC guidance.”

However, park superintendents were said to be growing frustrated by the situation and lack of control they have over their operations. David Vela, the Park Service’s deputy director who is its de facto director, told the superintendents that they don’t have discretion to close facilities if they deem them to be a health hazard to visitors or employees. Guidelines sent out to superintendents from Washington stated that “all operational changes in parks (cancellations and closures) must be made through the proper NPS leadership channels.”

“Political leadership puts messaging before field people,” one superintendent, who asked for anonymity in discussing the politically hot issue, told the Traveler .

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