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Western Outbreaks Threaten Tourist Season at National Parks

2020-07-15 23:51:22

“I see it as a way for us to keep our economy functioning,” he said.

In Texas, where new cases are surging, the season has been marred by fits and starts for Big Bend National Park, an 800,000-acre mountain and desert region on the Mexican border.

Like other parks, Big Bend shut down this spring as many states issued stay-at-home orders. For Bob Krumenaker, the park superintendent, that decision proved far easier than weighing what to do after reopening the park again on June 1.

The park, which employs up to 14 emergency medical technicians, has one ambulance and the closest hospital is close to two hours away in Alpine, Texas, a city of 6,000. Given those vulnerabilities, Mr. Krumenaker said, park officials developed a strict framework for triggering another closure. On July 1, park officials announced they had met the threshold after a staff member tested positive for the virus. The park shut down again for at least two weeks, and on Wednesday, extended the closure for at least several more days.

“There is a huge burden on me to make as wise a decision as I can,” Mr. Krumenaker said. “I fully accept the responsibility of this job, which involves making these really tough decisions,” he added. “But there is no playbook.”

The tricky balance of weighing health and economic impacts is acute at Grand Canyon, which is in Coconino County, a sprawling region of 143,000. The park and the tourist economy it creates provide 12,000 jobs in the county, said Elizabeth Archuleta, the chairwoman of the county’s Board of Supervisors.

The park closed on April 1 after county health officials suggested, then demanded, that it do so as infections in the park and county began rising. Grand Canyon began a phased reopening on Memorial Day weekend.

As coronavirus cases skyrocket in Arizona, Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican and close Trump ally, has taken a series of half-measures on closures, and rejected a statewide mask order.


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