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Buffalo National River closed to help slow coronavirus spread

Governor Asa Hutchinson said that 60% of visitors were from out of state, meaning many could be traveling from hot spots and unknowingly spreading COVID-19.

HARRISON, Arkansas — Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in a press conference on Wednesday that he recommends the closing of the Buffalo National Park. He pointed out that 60% of visitors were from out of state, meaning many could be traveling from hot spots and unknowingly spreading COVID-19.

On Thursday, April 2, the Buffalo National River posted on their Facebook page and announced they will be closed to recreational use until further notice, effectively immediately.

This closure includes the Buffalo River, trails, open spaces, and campgrounds. This emergency closure is for the maintenance of public health and safety and is in direct response to guidance from state and federal health officials.

“It breaks my heart to have to close this incredible public park," Buffalo National River superintendent Mark Foust said. "It is, however, the right thing to do to protect the people that work here, live here, visit here, and love this place. We all have to do what we can to slow and prevent the spread of the virus in and around the park."

State highways and county roads that run through Buffalo National River will remain accessible to through or residential traffic. Roads that enter and terminate within the park, are closed to all but residential traffic.

Gov. Hutchinson also said on Wednesday that he advised the Superintendent of Parks as well to look into closing parks in an effort to prevent the continued spread of COVID-19.

Secretary of the Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism Stacy Hurst said the state has done research on visitation data, as well as observing what other states have done in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

"We want to keep parks open but only where it is safe and manageable to do so," Hurt said on Wednesday during the press conference.

RELATED: Some Arkansas State Parks see near-record crowds despite social distancing guidelines

On April 3, parks in Arkansas will move to day use only, eliminating overnight opportunities to help reduce the amount of out of state visitors.

Other measures include only allowing parking onsite and on approved lots, and when visitors park on highways, streets or private property, they can be issued a citation.

Hurst also said that some Arkansas parks can close their visitor gates when their parking lots are full.

In addition, some popular trails will also close that have become particularly problematic, such as the Cedar Falls Trail at Petit Jean along with both the East and West Summit Trails at Pinnacle Mountain, where large crowds have flocked in an effort to get outside of their houses. 

Secretary Hurst said if these measures do not help, the state will make new recommendations to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Key things to know about the coronavirus in Arkansas:

  • 584 confirmed cases in the state
  • 7,920 total tests administered
  • 7,354 negative tests
  • 10 deaths
  • 42 recoveries

RELATED: Real-time updates: Arkansas positive coronavirus cases rises to 584, 10 total deaths

RELATED: 10 total Arkansas deaths related to COVID-19, officials say

WATCH GOV. HUTCHINSON'S PRESSER HERE: