There has been no reopening date scheduled for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks as of May 13, 2020, but one thing is for certain and that is the parks will remain closed during the Memorial Day holiday weekend, typically one of the busiest times of year for the local parks and Three Rivers. The parks have been closed to public use since March 25 due to the COVID-19 global outbreak and the subsequent stay-at-home order in effect in California.
“It’s a fluid situation that is evolving daily,” said Superintendent Woody Smeck in his weekly update held via phone to reduce community spread of COVID-19.
The superintendent is cautiously optimistic that maybe, just maybe, he will be able to announce a tentative opening date next week. And that’s about as certain as things get during these uncertain times. Public health metrics will determine when the first phase of reopening begins, as well as when it is safe to move into later phases.
The current closure affects all areas of the parks, including Giant Forest and the Generals Highway, Grant Grove Village, Cedar Grove, Mineral King, South Fork Campground and hiking trails, and North Fork-Yucca Flat. When Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks reopen to the public, all of the above areas will open concurrently and in a phased approach. The phase-one opening will be day-use only with entrance stations, roads, and trails being available. Camping (by reservation only to control density) and visitor centers will open as phase two is implemented. Campground reservations will be managed by www.recreation.gov.
The parks continue to have difficulty in obtaining adequate amounts of PPE (personal protective equipment) for staff to utilize when close contact is necessary. This is one holdup in nailing down an opening date.
Another hitch is having the proper staffing in place. As of Wednesday, May 13, about 40 percent of the parks’ seasonals (employees who are hired for the summer months) are on duty. Another 60 percent — who will be traveling to their summer job from throughout the U.S., which is another challenge within itself — will report for work on May 24. And before taking to the frontlines, they will partake in required training on how to operate safely during these pandemic times.
One thing of which Superintendent Smeck is certain is that “we don’t want to have to reverse an opening.” All that time, planning, preparing, organizing, purchasing, and hiring would be for naught if the parks had to re-close after reopening. That’s why staff is working diligently to ensure Sequoia-Kings Canyon gets it right the first time.