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The State of National Parks


Amidst a summer with physical distancing mandates, and indoor spaces having limited capacities, national parks and natural preserved spaces had themselves full schedules. Many typical summer attractions closed their doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so people sought out alternative ways to spend their time. One of the most commonly recommended activities this summer was to get outdoors, leading to people flocking to national parks and preserves.

At the start of the pandemic, there was plenty of news coverage about nature’s revival during the time away from visitors, how the pandemic could heal the earth. This is true in some ways, with wildlife thriving in areas where it previously had to guard itself from tourism, but there is more to the equation than that.

Some wildlife areas like national parks and well-known preserved spaces are actually seeing a rise in visitors this summer. Many individuals, groups and families all had the same idea this summer: pack the car and hit the road in search of adventure and beauty.

The rise in visitors has both benefits and consequences. It allows the parks and reserves to make up for dormant months in the tourism sector, where funds were not coming in at the usual rate. But the same

circumstance that’s helping their budgets may be harming the very land they pay to upkeep. Because of the tourism drought followed by a sudden monsoon of visitors once COVID-19 restrictions loosened, the ecosystems of these areas have been put under a strain like never before.

There are lines that mirror the busiest weeks of the year, but prolonged for months of the summer, according to National Geographic.

National parks are taking precautionary measures to ensure the safety of their guests and also to do the best they can for their natural areas. These measures include limiting park capacity as best they can, and encouraging physical distancing. However, Smithsonian magazine points out that it’s really up to the visitors, the parks can only do so much. The visitors need to be aware of practicing measures that will keep themselves and others safe, and also be respectful of the natural life that surrounds them.

Santa Paula Canyon National Forest has seen record numbers of graffiti, litter and defacing along its trails this summer. Park regulars testify to seeing people on the trails who clearly are not avid hikers, and lack a respect for the land they’re on.

Even with the park restrictions on capacity, customers have found ways to disregard these rules, such as arriving early in the morning before restrictions are enforced to gain entry to the parks.

“The future of national parks depends on people respecting them and treating them with care.”

Many parks have seen that their visitor demographic has become increasingly filled with firsttimers, and those who are not as experienced with how to behave at a national park.

The future of our normal everyday lives seems to be in the hands of COVID-19, but the future of national parks depends on people respecting them and treating them with care. OLIVIA O’BRIEN, ZION NATIONAL PARK, USA

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