National parks prepare for big crowds this summer

Published: Jul. 1, 2021 at 8:50 AM AKDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

MCLEAN, Va. (CNN) - After more than a year of COVID-19 restrictions, Americans are going places this Fourth of July weekend. And with wide-open, outdoor spaces looking like safe options, the National Park System (NPS) is seeing a big summer bounce-back.

For example, visitors flocked to Great Falls Park in Virginia, embracing sunshine and sounds.

Just 15 miles outside Washington, the 800-acre park offers views of the Potomac River cascading over jagged rocks.

After months at home, more people are seeking the outdoors.

“As more people are getting fully vaccinated, we’re seeing more and more people and this park is bustling,” park ranger Aaron LaRocca said.

In 2020, 66 of the 423 NPS sites saw COVID-19 closures of 2 months or more, resulting in 90 million fewer visitors to the system than in 2019.

In May 2021, some parks saw record attendance.

Yellowstone National Park, which stretches across Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, saw more than 483,000 visitors. And in Joshua Tree National Park in southern California saw more than 286,000 visitors, such as Paminder Parmar who was camping at the park with his family.

He said they had “a little extra time” and took the opportunity to visit the park.

“With masks and following protocol, I think we’re safe to come out and enjoy this wonderful weather and what nature has, what God has given us,” Mary Beth Applebee, another visitor to the park, said.

Even as Americans look for places to go, and things to do, park ranger Hannah Schwalbe says the traffic at Joshua Tree should slow with summer’s desert heat.

“We have the Sonoran Desert in the south part of the park, and here in the north part we’re in the Mojave Desert, where all the Joshua trees grow,” Schwalbe said.

Like other Western parks, heat and drought conditions among hundreds of thousands of acres require caution.

“Wildfires are definitely a concern here and we, even though it’s quieter in our summers, we do still get a lot of visitation,” Schwalbe said.

To combat the risk of wildfires, the parks implement fire mitigation rules.

“As of June 21, we have a fire restriction in place, so there’s no fires allowed anywhere in the park and that includes campfires,” she said.

That’s why Schwalbe and other rangers encourage visitors to research a park’s rules before arrival, especially since some parks now even requiring reservations to stem overcrowding.

Rangers also ask for patience this summer.

“Be kind,” LaRocca said. “Be kind to us, be kind to each other, and understand that we’re in this together.”

Copyright 2021 CNN Newsource. All rights reserved.