Horseshoe Bend National Military Park has always been a haven of history and an outlet for families to enjoy nature, so it’s no surprise when it reopened this weekend, people came out in droves to appreciate all it has to offer.
“My staff reported that the boat launch parking lot was completely full and parked on the side of the roads, so that means it was lots and lots of people,” HBNMP lead ranger Stacy Speas said. “The staff in general, we’re all glad we have access again to these outdoor areas in times like this. It’s really important for people to have an outlet that doesn’t involve staying in their houses all the time.”
Speas said she gauges a lot feedback from visitors who send in emails about their experiences at the park and many were very excited and grateful when the announcement went out about reopening.
“I love just seeing the folks walking in the park, seeing the joy on their faces,” Speas said. “Even people that don’t really want to go out in public so to speak can get something out of their national park.”
Horseshoe Bend opened access to its tour road, trails and boat launch during regular business hours Friday. Speas said the park is following federal guidelines, which align with the National Park Service guidelines and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention restrictions.
“Basically we’ve developed an adaptive recovery plan,” Speas said. “All national parks are doing this. We have to spell out and send to our regional office how we’re going to approach each phase and the phases are defined by White House guidelines.”
The park also has to follow state guidance and the most recent orders from Gov. Kay Ivey and state health director Dr. Scott Harris. Face coverings are highly encouraged for visitors to the park as well.
“We’ve got to satisfy criteria to open spaces that are confined; that’s where transmission can happen more likely,” Speas said.
While safety and health always come first, Speas said it can be a challenge for her and the staff members as they love interacting with the public.
“Many rangers feel this way but we need to keep people safe and then rely on personal responsibility from there,” she said. “The staff is mostly back at work but some are still teleworking one day a week in order for us to maintain social distancing within the buildings.”
There will be no ranger-led programs at the park until it enters Phase 2, which will be around the same time as opening buildings that currently remain closed including the visitor center, restrooms and picnic area.
“We’re still finalizing the museum we had been working on but COVID-19 has delayed the final touches,” Speas said.
The park rangers are currently working on additional ways to reach their audience through digital outreach as coronavirus-related guidelines continue to unfold.
“To underscore the point, national parks are places of refuge for the American public,” Speas said. “We want to encourage people to take advantage of the fact they have one in their backyard.”