Newly released statistics show just how devastating the pandemic has been for national parks, with visitation to Zion National Park a tenth of what it was in April last year.



Zion National Park authorities remain cautious as the park enters a partial reopening phase Wednesday, May 13, 2020.




Zion National Park authorities remain cautious as the park enters a partial reopening phase Wednesday, May 13, 2020.




Zion National Park authorities remain cautious as the park enters a partial reopening phase Wednesday, May 13, 2020.




Zion National Park survives the government shutdown thanks to the help of the Zion National Park Forever Project Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019.




Zion National Park authorities remain cautious as the park enters a partial reopening phase Wednesday, May 13, 2020.




Zion National Park Spokesperson Jeff Axel and Chief Ranger Daniel Faegren speak with reporters about the partial reopening Wednesday, May 13, 2020.



6/6 SLIDES

This May, Zion received fewer than 200,000 visitors, while May of 2019 saw more than half-a-million. Before the pandemic hit in March, the park was reporting a 30% increase of visitors compared to last year.

While Zion was only closed for six weeks, it was a time of reprieve for the rangers and nature.

“It was very surreal for the staff that was working to not have the human sounds and just hear the sounds of nature,” Zion spokesman Jeff Axel said.

Fewer humans meant more quiet, cleaner air and allowed for animals to return to some of their natural routines, according to the park’s foundation, the Zion National Park Forever Project. Crews reported cougar tracks along the Sand Beach Trail, something that hasn’t been spotted in quite a while.

© Chris Caldwell / The Spectrum & Daily News
Zion National Park authorities remain cautious as the park enters a partial reopening phase Wednesday, May 13, 2020.

“The animals are so habituated to people, but they went back to eating their natural foods instead of Cheetos,” Axel said.

More: Zion National Park reopens with coronavirus restrictions

The dip in visitors also meant a dip in revenue from entrance fees, and while it will affect park operations slightly, no one knows to what extent yet. Axel said in the light of the lack of revenue, the park will be “making adjustments” in the near future and will start collecting entrance fees soon.

Other parks have also been impacted by the pandemic, with the Grand Canyon National Park reporting nearly half of usual visitors in March and zero visitors in April. Bryce Canyon National Park also reported nearly half the visitors this March than March of last year.

K. Sophie Will is the National Parks Reporter for The Spectrum & Daily News through the Report for America initiative by The GroundTruth Project. Follow her on Twitter at @ksophiewill or email her at kswill@thespectrum.com.

This article originally appeared on St. George Spectrum & Daily News: Nature reclaimed Zion as tourism took a dramatic drop during COVID-19 closure

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