Katmai National Park delays opening of Brooks Camp area due to COVID-19 concerns

Apr 17, 2020

At Katmai National Park, the Brooks Camp Developed area averages around 20,000 visitors in the summer. The lodge and campgrounds are a short walk from Brooks Falls, where tourists flock to view bears. But those sections of the park will be closed off until at least July 1.

Tourists flock to Brooks Falls to watch bears live out there everyday lives.
Credit Wood/NPS

At Katmai National Park, the Brooks Camp Developed area averages around 20,000 visitors in the summer. The lodge and campgrounds are a short walk from Brooks Falls, where tourists flock to view bears. But those sections of the park will be closed off until at least July 1 -- one month later -- due to the coronavirus.

Brooks Camp typically opens on June first. The park decided to delay its opening, in part the state and Bristol Bay Borough’s have restricted travel. Katmai superintendent Mark Sturm said seasonal staff usually fly in to the region this time of year.

“The intent is to bring people in as soon as we can, as long as the state and local restrictions we’re trying to adhere to allow," he said. "We have some infrastructure out there and bears are going to start showing up. Lodge staff will probably be out there too, making sure things are in good repair.”

Revenue from day trippers and overnight bookings helps cover the costs of the seasonal staff who manage Katmai’s operations. With less visitors, Sturm said they need to figure out how to run the park on a smaller budget both this year and next.

“If we’re going to have a reduced level of funding for standing up next year, we need to think about the operational implications of that," he said. "I can tell you that the park will have reduced staffing regardless of how this year goes. Mostly because we’re trying to hold on to some of our revenues for out-year planning so that we can be whole next year when we try to start things up again.”

Sturm also says that reduced staffing will help the park manage any worker who gets sick. Housing units will be used to isolate anyone showing symptoms related to COVID-19.

Sturm is also participating in the Bristol Bay Borough’s emergency planning committee. Bristol Bay Borough’s Local Emergency Planning Committee and fishery task force. He says the park’s ability to help is limited, but they will try to make their resources available in the event of a crisis.

“But we do have some capacity for emergency medical services,' he said. "If the community needs those skills, we would do everything we could to make them available for use.”

The rest of the park is open to the public if people can access it safely. Visitors will be expected to follow local and state health mandates, like social distancing. Sturm hopes the landscape will change enough to allow for visitors later this year.

Contact the author at tyler@kdlg.org or 907-842-2200