Navajo Parks and Recreation Department keeping sites closed to all due to pandemic
FARMINGTON — Tribal parks, monuments and recreation areas maintained by the Navajo Parks and Recreation Department remain closed to the public, including to tribal members, because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Department officials stated in a press release this week that such areas will remain off limits after reviewing the public health emergency order issued on April 22 and determining the reopening of "parks" does not apply to those under their management.
Public Health Emergency Order No. 2021-009 was issued by the Navajo Department of Health. It elevated the tribe to yellow status under its reopening plan and set occupancy limits for businesses, including those identified as "marinas and parks."
"Navajo Parks and Recreation Department interprets this to apply only to parks that have occupancy limits, such as skate parks or playgrounds, and does not apply to tribal parks which do not have established occupancy limits," the release states.
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Locations staying closed are the Four Corners Monument, Bowl Canyon and Camp Assayi, Lake Powell Navajo Tribal Park, Marble Canyon, Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon, Little Colorado River Gorge, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park and Welcome Center, Window Rock Veterans Memorial Park and Tseyi Diné Heritage Area, also known as Cottonwood Campground at Canyon de Chelly National Monument.
Other areas listed on the department press release are Coal Mine Canyon and the San Juan River.
Last month, tribal President Jonathan Nez stated that tribal parks will reopen to Navajo Nation residents only.
He did not respond to questions about the department's decision on May 6, but in a virtual town hall the same day, he said 75% of people who live on the Navajo Nation need to be fully vaccinated before reopening can occur.
"If we reach that goal, I think we are really open to beginning to reopen the Navajo Nation to our visitors – just in time for tourism season. But that means we still got to be safe. If we're a vendor, we still got to wear our masks. Visitors come from all over the world, we want to keep everyone safe," Nez said.
He added that health officials reported that 71% of residents have been fully vaccinated as of May 2.
Jill Jim, the tribe's health department director, said during the town hall that discussion continues about reopening the tribal land to visitors and tourists.
The press release by the parks and recreation department states they proposed a soft reopening, but it was not feasible because of the April 22 public health order, and tribal law prohibits access to the tribe's roads by visitors and tourists due to COVID-19.
Delegate Paul Begay is sponsoring a bill to reopen six parks and recreation areas.
The legislation went to the Resources and Development Committee on May 5, where it received a "do pass" recommendation.
Committee members amended the bill to propose reopening the tribe's roads to visitors and tourists.
The bill proceeds to the Naa'bik'íyáti' Committee and the Navajo Nation Council, where final authority rests.
Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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