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Interior secretary: Park reopenings aligned with states’

Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt speaks Thursday at Petroglyph National Monument about how the government will go about reopening National Parks. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Most of the national parks, monuments and wildlife refuges have stayed open during the COVID-19 pandemic in some capacity.

And more are expected to open in the coming days, U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said Thursday before touring Petroglyph National Monument and Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge in the Albuquerque area.

“Most of the states are moving toward varied plans for reopening,” he said. “I’ve directed the Department of Interior to move right with those states.”

That includes New Mexico. Nature areas at places such as the Petroglyph National Monument have remained opened throughout the pandemic, but indoor facilities have remained close.

U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt speaks with Park Guide David Ottaviano during a visit to Petroglyph National Monument in Albuquerque on Thursday. (Tami Heilemann/ Department of the Interior)

Monument Superintendent Nancy Hendricks said the visitor center on the West Side may open as soon June 8.

“As we consider reopening the visitor’s center, we will be asking people to continue to space apart,” she said. “We’ll be asking folks to wear their face masks when they come into the visitor’s center. We’ll be limiting the number of people in the visitor’s center at one time.”

Bernhardt said his department’s policy is to align with precautions put into place by the communities and states where they are located, although there may be some differences.

Bernhardt said input from communities led to the decisions on which areas were closed and which remained open. He said capacity and resources available at local medical facilities played a role. He said his department did not want to put its employees, visitors or the communities at risk.

“We looked at every unit, every facility, every service provided and analyzed what we could do,” he said.

Bernhardt said he will be visiting the Grand Canyon in the next couple of days. He said he talked with Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez on Wednesday about the park, which has begun to reopen. It borders the Navajo Nation, which is the site of one of the largest coronavirus outbreaks in the country.

“There’s an entrance and an exit area that is important to them that will not be open,” he said. “We’re working with them and having discussions with them (about what other precautions may be taken).”

Parks and monuments that have remained open during the pandemic in New Mexico have seen different results when it comes to visitors.

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Nancy Hendricks, superintendent of the Petroglyph National Monument, stands with Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt as Hendricks talks about the amount of visitors the monument has seen since the shutdown. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

“We’ve seen quite substantial increases in visitations at our major trailheads,” Hendricks said. She said visits to the volcanoes and canyons more than doubled during March. “It’s slowing down slightly for us now that it is getting hotter during the day. But we anticipate things leveling off as more places start to reopen.”

But White Sands National Park ranger Kelly Carroll told the Journal during an earlier interview that visits to the park in southeast New Mexico started to slow at the beginning of the outbreak after seeing a spike in visitors after it was upgraded from monument status at the end of last year. And March, he said, is usually one of the busier times there because of spring break.

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