Secretary Bernhardt visits National Parks and National Wildlife Refuges in North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia
Date: Friday, May 8, 2020
WASHINGTON - While an overwhelming majority of the 500 million acres of public lands managed by the Department of the Interior (Department) has remained accessible to the public throughout the pandemic, some public sites were closed as a result of following state and local public health directives. President Trump has issued guidelines for Opening Up America Again, and the Department is working with our nation’s governors to restore access to America’s public lands that were closed.
U.S. Secretary of the Interior David L. Bernhardt participated in multiple site inspections this week in North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia to support local efforts to safely increase access.
Secretary Bernhardt met with maintenance crews, law enforcement, and park superintendents at Shenandoah National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park will begin its phased reopening plan May 9th.
The Trump Administration continues to work tirelessly with American Indians and Alaska Natives to provide critical resources and assist their communities. Secretary Bernhardt visited the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in western North Carolina, delivering face cloth coverings and other critical supplies to families to help them combat the coronavirus. He also participated in making and distributing meals as part of the Cherokee Central School’s lunch program.
The Department manages over 500 million acres of public lands that provide many recreation activities, including hunting, fishing, hiking, and wildlife viewing. Recreation is important to public health and to local economies. Secretary Bernhardt visited a small business involved in the recreation industry that has continued operating during the pandemic, utilizing the funds provided from the CARES Act for the Paycheck Protection Program.
From the onset of the pandemic, the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has worked to maintain public access to a majority of national parks where federal, state and local public guidance could be followed. Secretary Bernhardt visited Guilford Courthouse National Military Park, Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, and Cape Hatteras National Sea Shore, all of which have maintained public access to their outdoor spaces during the pandemic. Maintenance crews, fire control staff and law enforcement officers have continued to work, ensuring lands are protected and public health and safety is maintained for visitors.
In March, Secretary Bernhardt directed the National Park Service, Fish & Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management to waive entrance fees to our public lands for visitors. This remains in effect given amenities on public lands are limited; to help make social distancing a little easier; and to protect Department employees by limiting their direct interactions with the public.
Photo Credit: All photos taken by Tami Heilemann, Department Photographer.