Grand Canyon closes amid coronavirus concerns

Grand Canyon closes amid coronavirus concerns
© Getty

The Grand Canyon will close due to concerns about the safety of employees and visitors during the coronavirus outbreak.

The move follows pressure on National Park Service (NPS) officials from local officials and members of Congress. 

A Wednesday statement from the NPS said the Grand Canyon will be closed "until further notice."

ADVERTISEMENT

"The health and safety of park visitors, employees, residents, volunteers, and partners at Grand Canyon National Park is the Service's number one priority," the statement said.

"The NPS has consistently assessed its park units and made modifications to its operations in accordance with [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], state and local public health guidance, and the NPS will continue to follow the guidance of public health officials in making determinations about our operations to address this pandemic," it continued. 

A number of other national parks and monuments, including Yellowstone, Yosemite and the Statue of Liberty, have already closed, and the NPS has told The Hill that decisions about whether to close parks are being made on a "park-by-park basis by the respective superintendent."

The action follows a letter this week from 10 members of Congress, including House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) expressing concern that one of the most visited parks in the country was still open. 

Grijalva also told The Hill this week that he believed the park should be closed, saying, “Why expose both the public and the workforce of the park to the situation of this virus?”

Local officials, including a county chief health officer wrote to the Grand Canyon's superintendent last week with "extreme concern for any decision to keep the Grand Canyon National Park open in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Coconino County, Ariz., Board Chair Liz Archuleta said in an interview that the county had been in "constant contact" with the federal government to advocate for the park's closure. 

She said that she was "pleased" with the Wednesday decision to close the park, but prior to that "it was difficult to hear that the Grand Canyon was not closing as each day went by because people are being put at risk."

Acting Grand Canyon Superintendent Mary Risser recently told The Arizona Republic that a Grand Canyon Village resident tested positive in a statement shared through the fire department in Tusayan, Ariz.

An email obtained by The Hill also appeared to show internal pressure to close the park. 

It said that support documentation for the closure containing “objective data and facts regarding critical operational limitations” had been sent to both the NPS and the Interior Department for review. 

The NPS said in a statement that it made the decision to close the park in response to a "letter received by NPS today." 

Updated: 10:15 p.m.