FRESNO, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE/CNN) — One silver lining of the coronavirus pandemic is entry to all national parks is now free.
The Secretary of the Interior has directed the National Park Service to stop collecting entrance fees.
Other cities and states have also waived fees to parks in an effort to support social distancing.
Park officials say they want stir crazy citizens to be able to embrace nature and get out of their homes.
Once outside, they will still be asked to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on social distancing.
But these wide-open spaces offer plenty of room — and fresh air — to do just that.
While outdoor park spaces will remain open, other more crowded public park areas will be closed.
It may be best to check ahead on the National Park Service’s website — there is a special section on coronavirus.
But not everyone is on board with the idea of people descending on parks and their gateway towns to escape the virus.
Making parks free will lead to overcrowding and put staffers and visitors at greater risk of being exposed to the virus, according to a group representing park service employees.
“It is irresponsible to urge people to visit national park sites when gathering at other public spaces is no longer considered safe,” said Phil Francis, chairman of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks.
Executives at a hospital in Moab, Utah, also have implored state officials to slow the flow of people coming to see the red rocks and unique formations at Arches and Canyonlands national parks over fears the city’s hospital couldn’t handle an outbreak. In response, officials this week limited hotel stays to people in town for work and banned dining in restaurants.
Nationally, park superintendents are devising ways to stay open while keeping people at safe distances from one another and trying to ensure park employees stay healthy. Many parks closed visitor centers, museums and entrance booths while rangers are stationed outside to field visitors’ questions.
Though rangers are working, some parks warned people to be extra cautious and prepared, especially in places with wintry weather, because resources are strained amid the pandemic and rescues may be more difficult.
Locally, Yosemite National Park said the park entrances remain open along with hiking trails and the outdoor spaces around the Yosemite Village.
The park’s visitor centers the Yosemite Valley Theater, the Yosemite Museum, along with all restaurants and lodges inside the park are closed as of March 17.
In Yosemite Valley, the Village Store and Curry Village Gift & Grocery remain open, along with the El Portal Market and the Wawona Store.
All campgrounds in the park are closed until at least March 31.
Park officials added that gas stations located at Crane Flat, Wawona, and El Portal remain open. Park visitors are asked to purchase their park passes online.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are also open, but the parks’ visitor centers, including Kings Canyon and Foothills visitor centers, are closed, along with the Giant Forest Museum, and the parks’ Wilderness Office. Pear Lake Ski Hut is also closed.
Map of area national parks:
Pinnacles National Park, just a two-hour drive west of Fresno near Hollister accessible from Highway 101 to the west or Highway 25 to the east, remains open but all nature centers and visitor centers are closed.
Park shuttles are not operating at this time.
More information on conditions at Pinnacles National Park can be found here.
The Associated Press contributed to this report