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Reporting from the St. George area focused on local government, public lands and the environment, indigenous issues and faith and spirituality.

Arches And Canyonlands Are Closed: The Latest On How Coronavirus Is Affecting Utah's National Parks

An empty road approaches a park entrance booth, which is out of sight. A rocky ridge rises up in the background.
David Fuchs
A camera mounted on top of the entrance booth to Arches National Park showed an empty road on Sunday, one day after the park's indefinite closure.

Arches and Canyonlands National Parks closed indefinitely on Saturday, following calls from local governments and public health departments to temporarily shut down the parks to visitors due to coronavirus concerns. 

The decision to close the parks is intended to prevent tourists from bringing in the virus from other areas or injuring themselves while recreating and then seeking medical attention, said Lynn McAloon, a public affairs specialist with the parks.

“The highest mission is to keep the local community safe with the most resources that we can have for them,” McAloon said.

She added that while the parks are closed, staff will continue to work on critical maintenance projects and field work and park rangers will remain on duty to enforce all normal rules and regulations.

The question of when the parks will reopen will be evaluated on a day-to-day basis.

Their closure comes roughly two weeks after the leadership at Moab’s 17-bed hospital sent a letterto Gov. Gary Herbert, asking him to take additional measures to clamp down on the thousands of visitors expected to visit the region. 

In a statement released last Friday, the National Park Service indicated that the Southeast Utah Health and San Juan Public Health Departments had also requested for such a measure to be implemented. 

That same day, the Southeast Utah Health Department announced that the first case of COVID-19 had been diagnosed in Grand County.

“This may be our first confirmed case, but we do not assume it is our only case,” Health Officer Bradon Bradford said in a statement. “We would like to remind the community that we need to act and go through our days as if we already have the virus moving through our community.”

In Southwest Utah, Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks are still open. But precautions have been taken to preserve public health, such as closing campgrounds, visitor centers and certain roads and trails.

Park officials said they are working with local, state and federal governments as well as public health departments to monitor the risk and encourage Utahns to heed the governor’s call to avoid unnecessary travel.

The Southwest Utah Public Health Department — which encompasses Washington, Kane, Iron, Beaver and Garfield Counties — has more than 400 hospital beds in its district. It is not recommending park closures at this time.

In Central Utah, Capitol Reef National Park remains open, too, with limited services for visitors.

David Fuchs is a Report for America corps member who reports from KUER's Southwest Bureau in St. George. Follow David on Twitter @davidmfuchs.

David is a reporter and producer working on Sent Away, an investigative podcast series from KUER, The Salt Lake Tribune and APM Reports.
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