National Parks Are Getting Trashed During COVID-19, Endangering Surrounding Communities

Many national and state parks, supposed to be untouched swaths of time-proof wilderness, have been overrun by first-time visitors seeking refuge from quarantine, joblessness, or the inability to take far-flung vacations. And as people have flooded into the parks, new crises have arisen for rangers and nearby communities, including indigenous populations who were already particularly susceptible to the coronavirus.

“A lot of tourists who come through here, they think it’s unfair that we’re trying to have a lockdown and that we’re trying to keep outsiders out,” says Alberta Henry, a member of Navajo Nation who operates a camping rental business outside the Grand Canyon. “A caucasian man from Tennessee came onto the reservation and told my nephews, ‘Get those effing masks off! What’s wrong with you?’ People are openly racist, even in front of my children.”

Before the pandemic, national parks were already exploding in popularity. In 2019, the National Park Service tallied 327 million visits—9 million more than the previous year, and the third-highest total since record-keeping began in 1904.

Many of these parks briefly shut down once the pandemic hit a crisis point in March and April. But as states began to reopen, so did parks, albeit with some restrictions. But eager recreationists have found a loophole around the restrictions: arriving early in the morning before the regulations are enforced.

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