National parks will still require masks in some outdoor areas this summer

·3 min read

National parks will still require visitors to wear masks in some outdoor settings entering the summer season, an Interior Department spokeswoman said on Wednesday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last month that people could safely walk, run or bike without wearing masks — whether they are fully vaccinated or not — and that vaccinated individuals could attend small outdoor gatherings or dine out with others safely without masks.

An Interior Department spokeswoman told McClatchy that current rules at national parks, which ask visitors and staff to wear masks at crowded overlooks and trails, already reflect the updated CDC guidance and will remain in place.

“The Interior Department’s current policy incorporates CDC guidance. As CDC science-based guidance changes, our policy will adapt,” said Melissa Schwartz, communications director for the office of the secretary at the Department of the Interior. “CDC guidance for vaccinated people recommends that when outdoors, fully vaccinated people should wear a mask if they find themselves in crowded situations, which can certainly occur in certain areas of public lands,” she said.

“There will continue to be Interior managed areas where visitors are asked to wear a mask, such as inside buildings and in crowded venues,” Schwartz added.

National parks around the country are anticipating a busy season, with some of the most popular parks — such as Yosemite National Park in California, Glacier National Park in Montana, Zion National Park in Utah and Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado — requiring visitors to reserve entry tickets in advance this year.

Major attractions at U.S. national parks draw large crowds each year, and some hiking trails are expected to become steady streams of people once again this summer as Americans seek outdoor escapes during the pandemic.

President Joe Biden signed an executive order on his first day in office requiring mask use in federal buildings and on federal lands, including at national parks.

Following that order, the National Park Service issued requirements in February that visitors and staff wear masks outdoors “when physical distancing cannot be maintained, including narrow or busy trails, overlooks and historic homes.” Masks are required in all indoor settings.

The new CDC guidance encourages even vaccinated individuals to continue wearing masks at “crowded, outdoor events, like a live performance, parade, or sports event.”

“The National Park Service has been following the President’s Executive Order on Protecting the Federal Workforce and Requiring Mask-Wearing and it is still the current policy,” the National Park Service said in a statement to McClatchy. “Under this policy, visitors who are outdoors in national parks do not need to wear a mask when they can maintain proper physical distance from others outside of their group.”

The majority of parks remained open during the pandemic, and despite some temporary closures and coronavirus restrictions, the park system recorded over 237 million visitors in 2020. That was a 28% decrease from the previous year, although a number of parks still experienced record crowds.

The most visited national park sites last year were the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina and Virginia, which recorded 14.1 million visitors; the Golden Gate Bridge, which attracted 12.4 million visitors; and Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee, which brought in 12.1 million visitors.