WASHINGTON — Grand Canyon National Park is still open, but the same cannot be said for lodging and food services in the park that will be shuttered for the next two months by concerns over coronavirus.
Grand Canyon Lodging last week announced the “difficult decision” to suspend operations continuing through at least May 21.
The company, citing recent decisions in some jurisdictions to close bars and restaurants to help stem the spread of COVID-19, said the decision was made out of concern for the health and safety of its employees and customers.
“This decision was not easy, and we recognize the significant impact on your travel plans. But we know that this is the responsible path forward to help slow the spread of the disease,” said a company statement, adding that it was “deeply sorry” for the disruption.
The announcement is just one of several affecting services at the park, which still remains open. Delaware North announced that services at Yavapai Lodge and at Trailer Village are closed while park officials have halted shuttle service and closed the South Rim store and visitor stations, among other changes.
The Grand Canyon Lodging announcement came one day after Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said that entry fees at all open national parks would be waived until further notice.
“This small step makes it a little easier for the American public to enjoy the outdoors in our incredible national parks,” Bernhardt said in a statement.
His statement said the change also would improve “social distancing,” a key strategy to prevent the spread of the virus, by reducing interactions between park workers and visitors. In his announcement, Bernhardt encouraged visitors to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines by washing hands frequently, keeping a safe distance from others, covering coughs and sneezes and avoiding repeatedly touching the nose, eyes or mouth.
Some advocates said that while waiving fees is a good step, it should not be done just to make parks more accessible if that will lead to greater interaction between people.
“We remain concerned about the health and safety of park staff and visitors and strongly urge everyone to follow the guidance of public health experts before planning a trip to any park, in order to protect themselves and their communities,” said Theresa Pierno, the president of the National Parks Conservation Association, in a statement.
Jeff Ruch, Pacific director of PEER, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, charged that the Trump administration “seems to want to convey a sense of normalcy, even when it is not justified” with the decision to keep parks open.
“We don’t think the decisions are being made by park professionals. We think they are being made by senior political officials,” Ruch said.
As park services are trimmed back, businesses and residents in the area said they are starting to feel the pinch from COVID-19.
Understaffing and a lack of resources are the biggest hindrance to area businesses and residents, said Grand Canyon Chamber of Commerce General Manager Laura Chastain. She said work attendance already has dropped by 50%, as employees choose to take leave, and that some businesses in the area are encountering “supply issues.”
The town’s local foodbank, which was restocked last Wednesday, ran out of food almost immediately, she said.