LOGAN – Last summer — with sports stadiums, schools and theme parks shut down — two Utah State University researchers and their colleagues set out to help determine if social distancing was possible in national parks during a pandemic.
Zach Miller of USU’s Outdoor Recreation and Tourism Institute said he and Wayne Freimund, who works out of the USU-Moab campus, headed a team that set up motion-triggered cameras near the visitor center at Arches National Park to monitor visitors.
“We wanted to be able to help managers make informed decisions,” Miller said, “about re-opening parks and protected areas, particularly national parks, as people were starting to go back into these areas and have visitor experiences and engage in recreation in these parks and protected areas during a COVID-19 pandemic.”
He said they found 69 percent of visitors were able to navigate the area around the visitor center without having any other interactions with other groups. He said 60 percent of the groups were wearing masks.
“Overall, what we found when we built the statistical model, is that the number of people was not a significant predictor of encounters,” Miller added. “But what was, was the group size and the number of groups. That’s because we figured that people were actually behaving as a group and not necessarily as individuals when it comes to these COVID-related risk interactions.”
He said one of the takeaways they would leave with park managers is that they are doing a great job communicating CDC guidelines.
He advises those planning a national park trip to access the website of that park, since regulations vary park by park.