Park service considers closing Arches, Canyonlands

Moab, Grand County, San Juan County, health department all recommended park closures

The entrance to Arches National Park was not nearly as busy as typical on Thursday, when Moab Mayor Emily Niehaus sent a letter asking the park to close. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service
The entrance to Arches National Park was not nearly as busy as typical on Thursday, when Moab Mayor Emily Niehaus sent a letter asking the park to close. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service

National Park Service administrators who oversee the Southeast Utah Group of parks and monuments are taking seriously multiple recommendations from local health and municipal officials that Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park close to the public.

Lynn McAloon, who oversees public affairs for the Southeast Utah Group, said Thursday, March 26 that the park service was “considering the recommendations” after the Southeast Utah Health Department, followed by San Juan County, Grand County and Moab Mayor Emily Niehaus, sent letters requesting the closures.

“We are throughout the day, hour-to-hour, reassessing how we can continue to keep visitors and employees safe,” McAloon said.

McAloon went on to say that, on a park-by-park basis, the service was modifying park operations as local and state officials announce steps to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The NPS is taking extraordinary steps to implement the latest guidance from state and local authorities, which support the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention’s (CDC) efforts to promote social distancing and slow the spread of infectious diseases,” McAloon said. “As the situation develops, the NPS will continue to evaluate and reassess operations based on guidance from federal, state, and local health authorities.

The Southeast Utah Health Department sent a letter on Wednesday to Kayci Cook Collins, the interim superintendent of the Southeat Utah Group of National Parks, asking her to close Arches and Canyonlands national parks.

“I ask you to consider implementing an indefinite closure (with periodic review) of Arches and Canyonlands National Parks,” said Southeast Utah Health Department Health Officer Bradon Bradford in the letter to Collins.

Niehaus sent a letter the following day supporting the request, as did Grand County Council Chair Mary Mcgann.

“Moab understands that a temporary closure of these parks may be a disappointment to our local community, but we feel that such a step is in the best interest of our residents in the long term,” Niehaus said.

Arches and Canyonlands have both already closed some — but not all — facilities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic; all campgrounds and visitor centers in the parks are closed, but the entrances remain open, and entrance fees have been waived.

Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks are among the latest in the country to close. Parks administration announced the closures on Tuesday.

Note: This story has been updated with additional quotes, documents and information.