Use of Arkansas State Parks will be limited following concerns that social distancing procedures have not been followed and that out-of-state visitors could result in increased chances for COVID-19 transmission.
On Tuesday, March 31, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced his intention to restrict out-of-state visitors to Arkansas. One of the ways he mentioned was closing popular state parks and limited access to attractions. He said that he was awaiting recommendations from Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism Secretary Stacy Hurst on park measures.
Hurst told reporters on Wednesday, April 1, that all state parks would be limited to day use only, starting Friday, April 3. All overnight activities will be prohibited following this date.
“It is our desire to keep state parks open but only where it is safe and manageable to do so,” she said. “This Friday morning, April 3, we will move to day use only across our state parks system, eliminating all overnight opportunities. This is consistent with 28 other states, and we believe that it will further reduce the number of out-of-state visitors that are coming to Arkansas.”
There are several other measures that the State Parks system will be taking to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Certain “problematic” state park trails will be closed indefinitely because they lack sufficient space for social distancing. Hurst mentioned Cedar Falls Trail at Petit Jean State Park and the East and West Summit Trails at Pinnacle Mountain State Park. In a press release, the number of trails closed increased to include Cedar Falls Overlook at Petit Jean Stae Park; the Day-Use Area and the Kingfisher and Base Trails at Pinnacle Mountain State Park; and the Fossil Flats Mountain Bike Trail and the Woody Plants Trail at Devil’s Den State Park.
Overflow parking will not be allowed at the state parks. According to Hurst, some parks will be able close gates to visitors when parking lots are full and park rangers will also be able to issue citations when overflow parking spills out onto highways and streets leading to parks.
Hurst’ recommendations were based on three factors, including visitation data collected by the ADPHT online reservation system, observations on daily use from park staff, and best practices from other states.
Hutchinson also said that he is recommending that the Buffalo National River Park be closed during the length of the COVID-19 public health emergency. He said that he had spoken to the park superintendent, legislators in the park’s area, and local officials and had come to the conclusion that closing the park was the right course of action. The decision will ultimately rest with U.S. Secretary of Interior David Bernhardt.
According to Hutchinson, 60 percent of yesterday’s park visitors came from out-of-state. “You think about that in terms of hot spots across the country, the fact that other parks are closed, certainly points to the need that if we’re going to try to limit out-of-state visitors and COVID-19, we need to take this step and I made that recommendation,” he said.