“The health and safety of people working at and entering Liberty and Ellis Islands is our number one priority,” said a statement issued by the Park Service, a division of the Interior Department. “The park is working with the NPS Office of Public Health, U.S. Public Health Service, and state and local authorities to closely monitor the outbreak of respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus.”
To reach the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, visitors crowd onto ferries from Manhattan. Officials have not determined a date to reopen the site. A national symbol of freedom, the statue has about 3.5 million visitors a year.
A statement related to the closing of Golden Gate Recreation Area said its closure followed the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with “recommendations from state and local public health authorities in consultation with National Park Service public health service officers.” That area is currently scheduled to reopen at the end of the month.
Sites at Golden Gate include the Presidio Visitor Center. On the National Mall, they include the Old Post Office Tower, which is on Pennsylvania Avenue NW in the same building that now houses the Trump International Hotel.
Golden Gate was the most popular site in the nation last year and attracts more than 15 million visitors annually. The Washington Monument, by contrast, attracted about 800,000.
Overall, 327 million people entered a national park in 2019. Of the 10 most popular sites, only the Golden Gate Recreation Area was closed. The four most visited sites behind it, totaling about 45 million visitors combined, are the Blue Ridge Parkway in Kentucky, Great Smoky Mountains National Park straddling North Carolina and Tennessee, Gateway National Recreation Area in New York and the Lincoln Memorial in Washington.
During the past week, as the coronavirus outbreak spread and social distancing was identified as a key way to prevent infection, interest groups and former workers called for the entire national park system — 419 sites covering 84 million acres — to be closed.
Park Service officials at the Statue of Liberty and other park sites in New York City asked their superiors Friday for permission to shut down but did not receive it, according to two individuals familiar with the decision who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. On Monday, they were told they could follow federal, state and local public health guidance.
In a statement Monday, the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks demanded the closure of all parks. “The National Park Service should close all facilities that require employees and/or members of the public to be in proximity in confined spaces,” the statement said. “In addition, park superintendents should be authorized to close any other facilities, such as restrooms, that they don’t have the ability to sanitize properly.”
National parks are suffering from a lack of much needed repairs tied to a $12 billion maintenance backlog. “We fully recognize that calling for a nationwide closure of national park sites is unusual,” the coalition said. “But these are unprecedented times that call for unprecedented measures.”
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