SEDONA, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -- Some of the most popular trails and recreation areas near Sedona will soon be closed to the public, in the continuing effort to limit the spread of COVID-19 and encourage social distancing.
Officials from the Coconino National Forest, Verde Valley and Sedona have announced that the following trails and day-use sites will be closed this weekend, until further notice:
- Beaver Creek Day-Use Site
- Bell Rock Trailhead
- Cathedral Rock Trailhead and Trail
- Courthouse Vista Trailhead
- Crescent Moon Day-Use Site
- Devil’s Bridge Trail, including OHV access and surrounding associated trails:
- Dry Creek Trailhead
- Long Canyon Trailhead
- Mescal Trailhead
- West Fork Trailhead and Trail
The trails have to be closed by Saturday, April 4. The Forest Service said it previously noticed large groups not practicing social distancing at the popular spots.
“We realize these popular destinations in Sedona are places people rejuvenate by getting outside and experiencing the beauty this area has to offer,” said Red Rock District Ranger Amy Tinderholt. “However, the unfortunate reality at these locations during this pandemic has been continued high use, causing crowds to form and people lining up just to hike or get to the end of the trail. We will not keep trails and areas open that create environments for COVID-19 to spread easily, which negates the important practice of social distancing.”
Earlier this week, Sedona officials asked people to postpone their plans to visit the red rocks to stop the spread of COVID-19. "It is the first time, and it's not fun. It's not something we want to do, but we all know what we're facing here, and it's not pretty, and it's something we know we have to do," said Moriarty.
Gov. Ducey has ordered a statewide order to stay at home to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. "Stay home, stay healthy and stay connected," he said.
Tourists visiting those trails several days ago said that the area was pretty crowded. "The parking lot at Devil's Bridge was full, but there were people coming in and out pretty regularly. We circled around once and got a parking spot," said Azariah Fowler, a hiker visiting from Phoenix.
Fowler did agree that asking people to stay home is necessary. "I think it's the right thing to do. Honestly, the sooner everybody stays in for a little bit, the sooner this can pass. It's precautions just to make sure nobody else gets sick," Fowler said.
On Tuesday, the City of Phoenix joined many other Valley cities in closing down playgrounds to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Governor Doug Ducey signed an executive order on Monday called "Stay Home, Stay Healthy, Stay Connected." The order encourages people to enjoy the outdoors for exercise, including the hiking trails, as long as you follow social distancing guidelines.
"It's all in the effort to flatten the curve and contain the virus. That's got to be our top priority," Moriarty has said.
Experts and park officials are still encouraging the public to spend time outdoors, but to do so in a safe and responsible manner.
Jennifer Wesselhoff, the president and CEO of Sedona's Chamber of Commerce, had said earlier this week that if people continued to visit Sedona for hiking, it could have a trickle-down effect on other businesses and their residents.
"If a person comes here to hike, they're parking probably in a congested area, they're possibly passing people on the trail, they may or may not be using the restrooms at the trail," Wesselhoff explained.
There are already several cases of COVID-19 in Sedona, which is split between two counties -- Yavapai and Coconino. Wesselhoff said the main reason they're asking for people to reconsider their plans is so that their medical facilities don't become overwhelmed, as they have limited supplies.
"Sedona is rural, you know. We're two hours away from Phoenix, two hours away from the Grand Canyon, and we have limited medical facilities. Every additional visitor that comes to our area requires services that our residents also need so visitors at this time are putting a strain on our medical resources, could put a strain on our infrastructure," Wesselhoff has said. "Right now, we want to keep our residents first and our community first and united and ask those people who have those resources at home to stay home and allow us to keep Sedona safe."
The City of Phoenix says starting this weekend, it will be limiting access on some of the more popular trails.
"I'm sorry we have to take the attitude that we do right now, I really am. I'm sorry we can't invite you to come up and join us here, but it's really not the best choice right now," Moriarty said this week.
Moriarty and Wesselhoff say none of this is permanent, of course, and they can't wait to invite people back to their little town.
"Sedona's not shining brightly--a lot of our heritage sights are closed, the Chapel of the Holy Cross is closed, many of our jeep tour businesses have voluntarily closed," Wesselhoff said. "We're not able to give you that full Sedona experience, so when we are, we will welcome you with open arms."
Forest Service employees and law enforcement officers will patrol the hiking and recreation areas that are being closed, and citations will be given to those who ignore the closures.
Coconino National Forest officials continually evaluate popular areas across each district to determine if additional closures are necessary to help aid in following federal, state, and local health guidelines.
“We are doing our best to balance the opportunities available for the public to recreate on the Forest, while helping lower the COVID-19 curve,” said Tinderholt. “The crowds that we saw last weekend, and conversation with local leaders about the concern that continued influx of tourism has on their local heath and emergency services, solidified our decision to move forward. We will keep evaluating areas and may have additional closures in the future, but that will largely depend upon the public doing their part to avoid crowds and flatten the curve.”
Even though these popular destinations are closing, Coconino National Forest includes nearly 2 million acres of dispersed recreational opportunities across three districts.