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State Parks implement new guidelines after visitors flood parks over weekend

FILE - This Sept. 15, 2015, file photo, shows Zion National Park near Springdale, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Utah State Parks saw higher visitation rates over the weekend, as more Utahns flocked outdoors following the announcement of Gov. Gary Herbert to reopen. Most of the 44 parks were reopened to all visitors, with some restrictions in areas where local health orders are in place.

The Utah State Parks Department announced Wednesday it would be making temporary changes to address visitor capacity to ensure adequate social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re committed to maintaining the health and wellness of our staff and visitors. After last weekend, it’s evident that a few changes are necessary to increase safety and social distancing at our busiest parks,” said Jeff Rasmussen, director of the Utah Division of Parks and Recreation, in a statement. “We all play a role in keeping each other safe and healthy. We hope these changes contribute to a better visitor experience, and we ask those coming to state parks to do their part and practice responsible recreation.”

Zion National Park closed to the public on April 3, with state parks limiting access to only residents of the county in which the park is located. National parks across the nation, including Yellowstone and Grand Teton, were also closed amid the spread of the virus.

As state parks begin to reopen for outside visitors, visitation changes include:

  • Visitor capacity at high visitation parks will be reduced and determined by the number of available parking spaces inside the park.
  • State Parks will partner with local law enforcement and the Utah Highway Patrol to enforce highway parking restrictions at select parks in southern Utah.
  • Primitive camping will be closed or reduced at high traffic parks, allowing visitors to spread apart and practice social distancing.
  • Increased law enforcement and staff presence will be added inside the parks to encourage social distancing and responsible recreation compliance.
  • Park managers will update capacity estimates on their individual park social media pages and websites throughout the weekend.

“Outdoor recreation is important to the health and wellness of Utahns and we all play a part in keeping one another safe,” Utah State Parks said in a statement. “While outdoors, we cannot relax our efforts to practice safe social distancing.”