Socially distant outdoor adventures

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: It’s the 25th of June, 2020. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Megan Basham.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. If you count today, we have six days left. So we’re 80 percent of the way through our June Giving Drive and right about where we need to be in terms of progress to the goal, so we’re grateful for that.

BASHAM: So are you an 80 percent full kind of guy or a 20 percent empty kind of guy?!

EICHER: I’m definitely 80 percent full! But keeping a wary eye on that 20 percent. I know that’s a cop-out answer.

BASHAM: You said it so I don’t have to! Total cop-out.

Seriously, I’m really encouraged by all the support that I’m seeing. I’ll confess to hitting the refresh button a little obsessively. 

But as a cohost here, I’m totally humbled by the enthusiastic support of our program.

And as you said, it’s important to express gratitude in the moment, instead of only when the campaign’s over. Meaning, that those who’ve given deserve our thanks right now and not just when the final dollars come in. So I want to add my thanks, too!

EICHER: And encourage you if you’ve not given yet, please head over to

First up on The World and Everything in It: National parks and the summer of COVID-19. 

So far, coronavirus hotspots have mostly been concentrated in urban areas with dense populations. That means popular travel destinations like New York City or Los Angeles may not be so popular this year. Instead, families may opt for more rural destinations, where they can enjoy the great outdoors.

BASHAM: And there’s no better place to do that than the country’s national parks. WORLD reporter Sarah Schweinsberg spoke with parks officials to find out what visitors can expect at national parks this summer.

SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: It’s a quiet, sunshine-filled morning in Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park. Some early rising hikers are starting to fill a trailhead parking lot. 

Zane Moore and his sister are two of them. Moore lives near Sacramento, California. He says after a couple months of lockdown there, he needed a break from the city. So he came to visit his sister in Wyoming.

MOORE: Why not work somewhere beautiful instead of crowded Davis, California. We like camping. And we decided to come to Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone, because there’s probably proportionally fewer people.

Moore would be wearing a mask in Sacramento. But he won’t be doing that on his hike today. He isn’t really worried about catching the virus here. 

MOORE: I feel like it’s less, less necessary because it’s outside.

Epidemiologists say the odds of catching the virus outside are low. Elements like wind and rain, along with summer’s warm temperatures and humidity all affect the virus’s ability to infect people. 

One Chinese study looked at more than 300 COVID-19 outbreaks in the country. Only one was transmitted outdoors. Even then only two people were infected. 

With that in mind, some national parks began phased re-openings in May and June. 

In a statement, the National Park Service says it’s advising parks to follow their state’s individual reopening timelines. 

Christie Anastasia is a public affairs specialist with Acadia National Park in Maine. It’s one of the top 10 most visited national parks in the country.

ANASTASIA: I think a lot of people are attracted to Acadia National Park because it has some amazing coastline that’s very unique to Maine. 

Maine’s reopening plan allowed state parks to open June 1st. So that’s when Acadia decided to unlock its gates as well. 

ANASTASIA: The two most iconic things that people like to have access to at Acadia National Park, which is the park loop road drive, and the carriage roads, those are open now.

But what is still closed at Acadia—and in many other national parks—are indoor spaces like visitors centers, gift shops, and eateries. As well as places where people congregate, like campgrounds. 

Anastasia says she does recommend people at serious risk of COVID complications wear a mask―even on the trails. 

ANASTASIA: If they’re outdoors and they can’t keep a 6 foot distance to the next person… then we’d recommend a face covering.

Capitol Reef National Park in Utah has steep red rock walls and canyons. It’s seen visitation surge over the last decade. 

Lori Rome is a park ranger there. She says more visitors means more bathroom breaks, and that means staff will be doing more cleaning than ever this summer. 

ROME: The bathrooms are cleaned on the cycles that the CDC Centers for Disease Control are recommending. So ours are cleaned two times a day and they’re checked several times throughout the day. We’ll close one stall for 24 hours, use the other stall and flip flop back and forth.

Capitol Reef opened its visitors center earlier this month. But rangers put up plexiglass on the counters and wear masks. 

Nearby, Bryce National Park is famous for its spired rock formations called  hoodoos. 

Peter Densmore is the public information officer there. He says the visitors center is open but has capacity limits. And the park has adapted its shuttles. 

DENSMORE: Only 20 visitors are allowed on a bus at any one time, seats have been removed from the bus so as to create more distance between groups. You’ve got Plexiglas barriers there for the drivers. 

Bryce is also encouraging people to prepay entrance fees online to avoid exchanging cash or credit cards. It has reopened one of its campsites. Densmore says rangers are closely monitoring how people interact there. 

Dana Soehn is the spokesperson for Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Another top 10-er with more than 12 million annual visitors. 

SOEHN: Well the neat thing is the diversity. So we have over about. We have about 130 different species of trees. 

Great Smoky is divided between Tennessee and North Carolina. North Carolina has had a slower reopening phase, so the park is following those stricter guidelines. So far, four of the park’s nine campgrounds have reopened, along with its visitors centers. 

The park is concerned about overcrowding, so it’s posted a video to help educate people about how they can social distance in the park. 

SOEHN: It really focused on how to choose trails and overlooks that weren’t crowded so that you could proactively, you know, plan to have a less congested hike or a less congested experience.

If a national park’s campgrounds are closed or limited, park officials recommend booking at private campgrounds outside national parks. Or freedom camping in National Forests or on Bureau of Land Management lands. 

National Parks also often have towns nearby where you can visit restaurants and grocery stores. 

Acadia’s Christie Anastasia says whatever park you may want to visit this summer, it’s important to know before you go. 

ANASTASIA: People need to do their homework before they visit to figure out what they can and can’t do.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Sarah Schweinsberg in Grand Teton National Park.

(Photo/National Geographic) Grand Teton National Park

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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