Navajo president urges National Park Service to keep Grand Canyon closed
WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. – Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez is urging park service officials to keep Grand Canyon National Park closed because of concerns of COVID-19.
On May 2, Nez was a speaker for the panel discussion, "Not so Grand Opening: Examining Local Perspectives on the Department of the Interior's Plan to Reopen National Parks during the Coronavirus Pandemic," hosted by the members of the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands. Attendees included Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM), Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), Rep. Ed Chase (D-HI), and Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI).
"The Navajo Nation is surrounded by several U.S. National Parks, including Canyon De Chelly, Bryce Canyon, Chaco Canyon and others. The U.S. government needs to understand that we have a voice in how these parks impact our communities,” Nez said. “We appreciate the economic benefits that tourists bring. However, we continue to fear the potential negative impacts of reopening the state governments and parks.”
Nez said the Navajo Nation is doing everything possible to slow and stop the spread of COVID-19, including mandating face masks, implementing weekend lockdowns, daily curfews and closing all tribal parks.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, Nez and Vice President Lizer advocated for the closure of Grand Canyon because of the high numbers of tourists that travel through the Navajo Nation to gain access to the park, which increases the risk of the spread of COVID-19. The Navajo Nation has temporarily restricted travel to tourists on the Navajo Nation and continues its closure of tribal parks within the Navajo Nation.
Other panelist speakers advocating for the closure of the National Park included Havasupai Tribe Councilwoman Carletta Tilousi, Coalition to Protect America's National Parks Chair Phil Francis and Public Lands Alliance President and CEO Dan Puskar.
Currently, the Grand Canyon is expanding access to its more popular South Rim entrance and planning to let visitors in around the clock next month after it shuttered temporarily over coronavirus concerns.
The entrance station will be open from 4 a.m. until 2 p.m., starting May 29 until June 5 when the national park will drop restrictions on the hours. The canyon's North Rim also will reopen June 5, though the campground will be closed until July 1 because of construction.
Park concessionaires will start reopening lodging in June, the park said.
The Grand Canyon's East Rim entrance, which goes through the Navajo Nation, will remain closed along with the Desert View Watchtower and the nearby campground.
The Associated Press contributed to this story
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