SPRINGDALE, Washington County — Zion National Park is now closed indefinitely amid the COVID-19 outbreak, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert announced Friday afternoon.
Herbert said his office worked with Washington County officials, as well as federal officials with the Department of the Interior to arrive at the decision. Mayors of Springdale, Rockville and nearby St. George were among the group of local officials urging that the park close.
"Those who are in the park right now will have the rest of the day to gather their belongings and leave but no more (people will be allowed in)," Herbert said, during a daily press briefing at the Utah Capitol.
Zion National Park officials confirmed the closure shortly after Herbert's announcement. They said they received a letter from the Utah Department of Health on Friday that recommended the full closure of the park. Jeff Bradybaugh, the park's superintendent, got the approval from federal leaders, including Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, to close the park until further notice.
"We appreciate the collaboration with state and local agencies and their expertise in steps to reduce the risk of the spread of COVID-19,” Bradybaugh said in a prepared statement. "Zion has been carefully assessing our ability to provide a safe environment amid this crisis and in making progressive changes to operations as needed. However, visitors are continuing to come to the park from all across the country at numbers difficult to maintain social distancing."
Zion is the most-visited national park in Utah. The National Park Service reports that about 4.5 million people visited the park in 2019, which edged out Yosemite National Park in California for the fourth-most visited national park in the U.S. last year.
Since many out-of-state visitors come into Utah to visit Zion National Park, authorities thought it best to close the park to prevent the spread of the disease.
"This is an example where people come into our state — in fact, more than 50% of the people who go to Zion Park are not Utahns," Herbert said. "I appreciate the fact that we worked with Secretary Bernhardt ... and he's been very cooperative giving local consideration to our needs."
In addition, houseboat rentals at Wahweap and Bullfrog parts of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area will be closed beginning Saturday. Boat rentals were closed in those areas on Thursday.
Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is also closing all public boat ramps on Lake Powell in response to CDC guidance, park officials announced Friday night.
The temporary closure begins on Monday at 5 p.m. will stay in effect until the state’s stay home directive is lifted, or health officials deem ramp operations can be done safely while maintaining social distancing guidelines.
The measure comes in an attempt to “to protect employee and visitor health and safety and provide resource protection by mitigating the risk of quagga mussel contamination to other bodies of water,” officials said in a statement.
Anyone with a private vessel at a marina can access them but will not be able to voyage outside the marina because visitor services are suspended on Lake Powell.
Some access areas at the lake will remain open for “shore-based swimming and water recreation,” the statement read.
The series of federal park closures are a reversal of an effort made by federal officials to open up federal land for outdoor social distancing space. On March 18, Bernhardt ordered that all national parks waive entrance fees. A similar measure was ordered for Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services land.
While those parks promoted social distancing tactics, health officials became wary of large groups congregating outside.
“There is particular concern that the normal crowds that are drawn to the parks are coming from areas that we have little information about. Their interaction with park staff and the local community increases risk of disease transmission,” wrote Brandon C. Bradford, health officer for the Southeast Utah Health Department, before the Arches and Canyonlands closures.
Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef national parks in Utah remain open, although some of the resources at those parks are closed, according to the parks' websites. Herbert also confirmed that Utah State Parks remain open, but only to residents of the county the park is located in.