The National Parks of Boston are proceeding cautiously in regards to re-opening their facilities – which can officially open under the state’s plan on July 13 – and will likely not open their Charlestown facilities in the Navy Yard and Bunker Hill until Aug. 7. That said, few are going to be climbing the Bunker Hill Monument any time soon, as the National Park Service struggles to figure out how to open the Monument for climbing in a way that is safe and sanitary given its close quarters. All things are certainly qualified with an asterisk on the opening if things change in terms of COVID-19 infections, but Dep. Supt. Bob Wilbur said they are working with the USS Constitution and the USS Constitution Museum to have a coordinated opening in early August – missing some, but not all of the summer tourist season.
“We’re working very closely with our partners at the Navy Yard – the USS Constitution and the USS Constitution Museum – to have a carefully coordinated re-opening of the Charlestown Navy Yard,” Wilbur said. “Right now we’re targeted Aug. 7. That will allow us time. We have some people at the Park making changes to the facilities and implementing hand sanitizer and physical distancing measures. The USS Constitution is preparing to bring back its sailors and figuring out the maximum amount of people they can have on board at one time.” All of that is being worked out with a consultant brought on by the National Park Service to look at regulations and safety measures for staff and visitors. There will be clear signage and new regulations on occupancy for the museums, visitor centers and the ship. The opening in early August will allow for accommodating tourists that usually come in the summer months.
Even though the Park has been closed officially, there have been a healthy smattering of tourists passing through the Town despite COVID-19. The NPS is excited to try and catch some of the tourist season, but there is also some anxiety in that as visitors from other parts of the country where infections are increasing could arrive in Charlestown.
“We’re going to have to play it by ear to see how the public health trends go,” he said. “Massachusetts is very good, but I’m concerned about Florida, Arizona and Texas – they’re not looking good. It might spread again to other states as people travel around. That’s always a concern. We’re hopeful that public health trends data will continue to be favorable and we can get more people in the Park.
“That said, we have also noticed there have been quite a few international travelers have been up at Bunker Hill and we have encountered that,” he continued. That plays to the fact much of the two Parks have been open in Charlestown during COVID-19 shutdowns because a lot of it is open space, and Wilbur said that has been valuable to the community. “The good news is our grounds have been open for the duration of this pandemic,” Wilbur said. “That’s been a good thing because people are cooped up in the house and I think Charlestown Navy Yard and Bunker Hill Monument grounds are great places to get out…The one challenge is Bunker Hill Monument grounds are an oasis for open space amongst all the residents. The challenge is sometimes there are so many people hanging out there that it is hard to maintain physical distancing protocols.”
He said the grass on the Monument grounds got a little shaggy as they were not able to deploy their landscaping contractor, but in recent weeks that has been solved and the grounds are now manicured as they usually are. Climbing the Monument is something, however, that may not return for quite some time, Wilbur said. “I don’t know if that’s the toughest question in all our parks,” he said.
“That’s the one we’re most challenged with because it’s so confined going up there. Trying to physical distance there, we don’t even know how we’ll do that.” As a replacement for visitors to the Monument, the NPS will install a WebCam next week at the base of the entrance that shows the real-time view at the top of the obelisk. If one cannot climb the Monument, at least they can see the view from the ground. That is one example of how the NPS, Wilbur said, has been pushed to expand its digital footprint at National Parks like the Navy Yard and Bunker Hill.
With a move to have less contact, there has been more effort to install digital tour guides and a dial-a-ranger program where a visitor can call a phone number, get a National Park Ranger on the line, and then ask any question about the site. “We kind of needed to do that anyway, and this pushed us in that direction,” he said.
Other Parks and Their Openings:
•The Boston Harbor Islands National and State Park is currently in coordination with the state on a full re-opening. Already, they have opened Spectacle Island to visitors, and the Ferry from downtown started running trips on July 1. Wilbur said there is a unique challenge on the ferry to maintain physical distancing.
•The NPS Visitors Center on the Rose Kennedy Greenway is targeted to re-open to visitors on July 15.
•The Museum of African American History on Beacon Hill is going to remain closed for the time being. There is no date yet targeted for an opening this summer. The hope was to open it at the end of July, but some indoor challenges might make it take longer to secure.