That’s the motto of the U.S. National Park Service this summer.
A pair of spokespeople for the National Park Service said that credo is working out well in Alaska, including at Kenai Fjords National Park just outside of Seward.
“There are modified operations within the park for visitors that might look different than another year,” Shauna Potocky, public information officer for Kenai Fjords National Park, said. “Everybody in the park is working hard to give visitors a great experience.”
Pete Christian, public affairs officer for the Alaska region of the National Park Service, said one difference visitors to national parks will notice this summer is the lack of out-of-state tourists due to near total stoppage of cruise ships, restrictions in place at the Alaska-Canada border and the drop of airline traffic coming into the state.
“In this time of coronavirus, we want all Alaskans to spend as much time in national parks as they can and early indications are Alaskans are totally embracing that vision in great numbers,” Christian said.
Potocky said last year, Kenai Fjords National Park bumped up to 356,601 recreational visits.
“We won’t be able to really know what those metrics are until later in the season,” she said. “It’s hard to do an estimate.”
She did say that Seward in general has been busy on the weekends with cars flowing in on the Seward Highway, but weekdays have not been as busy.
“We sometimes have to manage parking lots because when the park gets really busy they get full,” Potocky said. “We haven’t quite seen that this season.”
The trail system in the Exit Glacier area is open, with plenty of signs encouraging prepared and responsible recreation. In regards to the new coronavirus, Kenai Fjords National Park encourages visitors to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance on crowds, social distancing and cloth face coverings.
“In regards to being prepared, it’s important to really know your limits and be respectful of wildlife,” Potocky said. “We encourage carrying bear spray and knowing how to use bear spray.”
On the Kenai Fjords National Park Facebook page, a notice of a wounded moose and her calf was posted June 12, while Sunday saw a post about bear activity in the Exit Glacier area. Potocky said such posts reinforce how important it is to be prepared to encounter wildlife.
Christian said responsible recreation also means knowing limits and not triggering a rescue when park resources are already strained.
“Don’t get into trouble,” Christian said. “If you need help, we’ll come find you, but there’s not as much help at parks all over Alaska.”
Potocky said Kenai Fjords National Park typically gets a Student Conservation Association crew for the summer, but that didn’t happen this summer. Rangers are still checking the trails for maintenance needs.
“We do have a maintenance staff on the regular park staff that helps maintain the trails,” Potocky said.
The Kenai Fjords National Park Visitor Center, located in the Seward small boat harbor, and the Exit Glacier Nature Center, located in the Exit Glacier area, both have modified operations this summer, according to Potocky.
The national park visitor center has an open-air ranger information station from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, which allows for public information and participation in the junior ranger program. For those who don’t want to stand in line to talk to a ranger, there is information posted allowing them to call a ranger.
The glacier visitor center also has an open-air ranger station, but there is no dial-a-ranger program because there is no cellphone service there.
“So far, things have been going really well,” Potocky said. “I think visitors have benefited from having information stations available with rangers on a daily basis.”
Christian said operations also are going well at other locations in the state like Denali National Park and Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.
“It’s a great summer in Alaska to see the great, big, beautiful national parks in your backyard,” Christian said. “We’re seeing enthusiastic visitorship on the road-system parks that are easy to reach.”
Potocky suggested visitors to Kenai Fjords National Park call ahead at 907-422-0500 for planning and up-to-date trail information before a visit. Christian added that after hours, park websites also are a great source for information.