Coronavirus causes changes at Alaska's national parks and preserves

Published: May. 12, 2020 at 2:29 PM AKDT
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Concerns over coronavirus have caused several changes to Alaska's national park operations already, but during the rapidly approaching summer season, locals may see immediate benefits from some of those adjustments.

"We're ramping up for our busiest season," said Pete Christian of the National Park Service, "kind of trying to maintain normal park operations as best we can, in all these locations, while making sure we're keeping people safe."

There's been some back and forth over America's national parks during the coronavirus pandemic: Several closed altogether, while all have seen some rule implemented to prevent the spread of the virus. As for Alaska, the team here has a plan of its own currently in the works and expected to be announced within the next few days.

"We're going to be making decisions next about campgrounds and what facilities will open and when," said Denice Swanke, also of NPS. "I expect we'll have those decisions later this week. And then the next decision will be the bus system."

Some adjustments are noticeable - consider the closing of visitors' centers and limited access in many parks - but other changes aren't quite as obvious. For example, Christian and Swanke both said Alaska's NPS staff is at about 50 percent of its usual amount because of travel restrictions and other limitations. Those meant that seasonal staff couldn't fly in from around the world. Additionally, other processes, such as winter preparations, are also under way.

"We're trying to engage so everybody is in lockstep, right?" Swanke said of the work happening between NPS, the state, and federal agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control. "But then we also have normal work that's going on."

Still, officials said that for Alaskans, and especially with fewer out-of-state tourists, this year just might be the year to experience NPS parks, preserves and monuments, as some of the best are in our own backyard.

"We're hopeful that people continue to love their national parks and keep that support going," Christian said. "We believe this summer is going to be one of the best for Alaskans to visit their local parks, and find their special parks, wherever they are."

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