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Big Bend National Park Announces New Closures In Response To Coronavirus

In an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus, officials at Big Bend National Park have announced a new round of precautionary measures, including closing all campgrounds, backcountry campsites and limiting the park to day-time use only.

The new restrictions come just four days after the park made initial changes to its operations—which saw the closure of all visitor centers and entrance stations at Big Bend National Park.

Beginning March 23 at noon, all online reservations will also be canceled, the RV campground at Rio Grande Village will close and all river trips and operations suspended.

The Chisos Mountain Lodge will close, although the restaurant will remain open with take-out service only. All park camper stores and service stations will stay open, according to the park.

The closure of the lodge follows Brewster County Commissioners mandating all hotels, motels, campgrounds and short-term rentals—like Airbnbs and VRBOs—to close. The order is effective through April 2. In neighboring Presidio County, commissioners approved a similar measure, as did the City of Marfa.

“We realize these changes have tremendous impact on the visiting public, our partners, and the economic livelihood of local businesses and employees,” said Big Bend National Park Superintendent Bob Krumenaker a press release announcing the first round of changes. 

On the park’s website, a memo says the steps were taken to “protect employees and the visiting public from the coronavirus pandemic.” Despite the closures, the park is technically still open—however, services are limited.

The initial closures were announced Tuesday morning amid growing concern of the coronavirus. Generally, the Spring Break period—which can last the entire month of March—sees thousands of visitors from across the country visiting the sprawling 800,000-acre park.

While ranger-guided activities have also been canceled, Courtney Lyons-Garcia with the Big Bend Conservancy, says rangers will still be out in limited numbers to provide information and answer questions, while practicing social distancing. Lyons-Garcia says her group and staff at Big Bend National Park are encouraging people who still decide to visit to stock up on supplies before they arrive, so they don't take away from the limited resources to local communities.

“The park can be a place for all of us to heal, but it’s not going anywhere either,” said Lyons-Garcia. “It will still be there in a month; it will still be there in six months; it will still be there in 600 years. It’s going to be there when all this is over and we can all go out and enjoy it.”

This post was updated on March 22 with new closures at Big Bend National Park

Carlos Morales is Marfa Public Radio's News Director.