BREWSTER COUNTY, Texas (KLTV) - Big Bend National Park in southwest Texas is set to reopen Friday after closing a month earlier due to to the spread of COVID-19 in the park’s residential community.
The 801,163-acre park had closed on July 2 in accordance with its plan to address operations during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Chief of Interpretation Tom VandenBerg said the two positive cases have since recovered.
“(It) caused us to isolate a fairly large, substantial portion of our park staff, which made it very difficult for us to operate the park in a safe and responsible way and to host visitors the way we’d like to.”
Big Bend had previously closed for 10 weeks in March, April, and May, joining many others in the National Park system in the early weeks of the pandemic. Employees used that period to complete ongoing improvements, a news release stated.
“These include cleanup of the 2019 Castolon Fire debris, painting of the Panther Junction Visitor Center, and extensive clearing of brush in campgrounds and along roadsides.”
VandenBerg said workers also completed two prescribed burns, road improvements, and even deep-cleaned carpets in facilities.
“I think visitors that are coming to the park now will see that it’s in better condition than it has been in a long, long time.”
As the park prepares to welcome visitors a second time, they will begin operating under day use only.
“All of the trails in the Chisos Mountains essentially are open,” VandenBerg said. “So if you wanted to get up out of the desert into a little cooler elevation, you know, the drive up there is spectacular.”
When the park gates open August 7, much Big Bend’s facilities and features will remain temporarily closed.
These include: the paved road from Panther Junction to Rio Grande Village; Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive; all dirt roads; all river use; all campgrounds and backcountry campsites; off-trail (cross-country) travel or camping; backcountry trails not accessible from open paved roads; the Chisos Basin Campground road and overflow trail parking; all visitor centers; Chisos Basin Lodge & Restaurant; park stores and gas stations, except the gas station at Panther Junction; and the Boquillas Crossing Port of Entry.
According to the park’s website, group sizes will be limited to either five people or a single household. Brewster County is also under a state mandatory mask order.
Typically one of the least-visited national parks, Big Bend started the year with booming attendance. In 2019, the park saw a record 466,000 visitors.
According to VandenBerg, most travelers are from in-state.
“Some of the people coming from the more populated parts of the state, that’s what they’re looking for. You know, it’s a place to slow down, reconnect, and just enjoy the world as it was meant to be.”
The earlier closure in the Spring came during the park’s normal busy season, the months of February, March, and April.
Moving forward, the park is following a phased approach to its reopening.
“The park will determine further reopening and closures according to the local and regional status of the pandemic, along with the advice of federal, state, and local public health officials,” a news release stated.
VandenBerg says this is the hottest time of the year in the park and visitors should plan their visit with respect to extreme heat.
More information can be found on Big Bend National Park’s website: https://www.nps.gov/bibe/index.htm