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Group outlines protections necessary to reopen national parks
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Group outlines protections necessary to reopen national parks

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Bison calf

Bison calves are being born in Yellowstone National Park, oblivious to the closure of the park to the public this spring.

Reopening Glacier, Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks is no easy task. Planning has been underway since the parks were closed in March on what precautions should be taken and what facilities should open.

The Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks, a group representing 1,800 current, former, and retired employees and volunteers of the National Park Service, has outlined 10 core requirements that it believes must be met before America’s national parks can reopen.

“Parks absolutely should not open until the safety of National Park Service employees, concession employees, volunteers and other partners — including those who work and live in gateway communities — can be ensured," said Phil Francis, chair of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks, in a press release. "Parks must be able to demonstrate that they have adequate staff to protect resources, personal protective equipment available to those staff members, and employee training including specific training related to COVID-19 as recommended by the CDC and OSHA.”

Here's the group's list, which gives some insight into the difficulty and decision-making park officials are facing.

1. Prior to parks opening for the season, plans for opening should be distributed to park employees, including seasonal employees prior to onboarding, and made available to the public (such as posting the plan on the park website).

2. Parks should not be expected to reopen overnight. While working with local and state governments is important, the NPS should follow the most cautious standards to ensure the safety of all involved in park operations, as well as visitors who visit inside the parks and utilize services in gateway communities.

3. Park staff must have the necessary capacity to safely provide visitor services and protect park resources, including: adequate staff, personal protective equipment, and employee training including specific training related to COVID-19 and NPS safety training.

4. Superintendents, in consultation with their local communities, should be given the authority to make decisions about what is happening in their own parks.

5. The vast majority of front line NPS staff are or will be in close contact with park visitors coming from outside the local area. As a result, these employees should be considered to have Medium Exposure Risk and NPS should implement recommended control measures consistent with OSHA’s Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19. For public contact employees, NPS should provide for daily workplace employee temperature screening to ensure detection of individuals showing symptoms of COVID-19.

6. Parks must ensure that local health care providers have the testing capacity on-hand to test symptomatic employees in a timely manner, rather than waiting until symptoms worsen or require treatment.

7. Many NPS employees live on-site, in close quarters, in government-owned housing. According to an NPS document, parks should estimate that 40% of the total population at the park will require isolation and 4% will require hospitalization. This is unacceptable. There must be adequate space available in employer-provided housing to ensure for social distancing and to provide for isolation of individuals showing early signs of infection.

8. There must be adequate custodial staffing to ensure frequent cleaning (i.e., more than the typical once or twice a day) of all public restrooms that are open for use. This is particularly a concern in campground and visitor center restrooms, which will be a concentrated public use facility regardless of how many campsites and visitor centers are open or closed.

9. There must be system-wide and individual park plans in place that can be fully funded and properly executed prior to reopening including safety plans that ensure compliance with CDC and OSHA guidelines and NPS Safety Policy.

10. Safety analyses should be completed on plans and park operations including employee housing, concession operations, volunteer programs, cooperating association and other partner operations or contractor activities.

A full list of the recommendations can be found online at: https://protectnps.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Park-Reopen-Principles.pdf.

Phil Francis, Chair of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks, 

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