The reopening of the Alerce Costero National Park on August 5 marks the beginning of the step-by-step strategy for the National System of State-Protected Wildlife Areas (Sistema Nacional de Áreas Silvestres Protegidas del Estado, SNASPE), which includes national parks, national reserves and natural monuments throughout the country.
The decision was announced this morning by Agriculture Minister Antonio Walker, who was accompanied by National Assets Minister Julio Isamit, Tourism Undersecretary José Luis Uriarte, and the Executive Director of CONAF (National Forestry Service), Rodrigo Munita. The officials noted that it is part of the gradual return to activities in Chile and adheres to safety protocols implemented by the government to avoid a possible resurgence of COVID-19.
Agriculture Minister Antonio Walker pointed out that if an increase in cases is reported or if health measures are not being followed, these areas could once again be closed to safeguard the health of park rangers, visitors and those who live within the protected areas.
“If people are outdoors and take precautions, there are very low levels of infection. Therefore, we have been preparing and we have prepared the park rangers. All ticket offices will be equipped with glass or plastic shields. We have said that entrance fees should preferably be paid by credit card, debit card or some form of electronic payment. Groups of more than 15 people will be banned. And ticket offices will be marked to indicate where people should stand while waiting,” explained Minister Walker.
National Assets Minister Julio Isamit stated, “in addition to the opening announced by Minister Walker, another 62 national protected areas, totaling more than 600,000 hectares, will also be opened to the public, to families, once the municipalities where they are located enter into the next steps of the plan: transition, preparation, initial or advanced opening.”
Tourism Undersecretary José Luis Uriarte welcomed the announcement and confirmed that before the end of the year, seven national parks will be participating in an online reservation system, thereby minimizing contact between people.
“Being a tourist does not mean having to travel far away or board a plane. We can be a tourist right here in Chile, in our own neighborhood or region, with our neighbors. Every one of the parks throughout Chile is a closely-guarded treasure. Furthermore, we are working together with the National Forestry Corporation (CONAF) to have an online reservation system for our national parks by the end of the year,” said Undersecretary Uriarte.
The officials added that the Mocho Choshuenco National Reserve, also located in the Los Ríos Region, will open on August 15.
The executive director of CONAF, Rodrigo Munita, confirmed that “we at the National Forestry Corporation and our team of park rangers are aware of the great emotional, relaxation and recreational benefits that the parks can give our fellow Chileans during this difficult time caused by the pandemic. So we have made a major effort to coordinate activities throughout Chile, together with local communities, to safely open up our protected wildlife areas.”
CONAF has launched a nationwide project to introduce a state-of-the-art digital platform where people can visit Chile’s national parks and reserves, make reservations and pay entrance fees online, thereby making visits faster and safer. The project will begin with the Torres del Paine National Park, with a parallel program running for all of the Bicentennial Parks: Vicente Pérez Rosales, Conguillío, Alerce Costero, Radal Siete Tazas and Bosque Fray Jorge, as well as Villarrica.
According to the reopening calendar, the following parks will be among those that reopen in September: Torres del Paine National Park and the Milodón Cave Natural Monument in the Magallanes Region; and Patagonia National Park (the Tamango sector), Río Simpson National Reserve, Coyhaique National Reserve and Dos Lagunas Natural Monument, all in the Aysén Region.
Visitors are advised to sanitize and disinfect their personal items, such as backpacks, clothes, bottles, etc., before and after their visit. They must listen to short safety presentations and follow all the instructions given by park rangers. Also, entrances and ticket offices will use transparent materials (glass, plastic, polycarbonate, etc.) to separate park rangers from visitors. Markings on the floor will help visitors maintain a distance of at least 1 meter from one another. For safety reasons, payment by card is preferred and all tourists will be given a short introductory presentation detailing how they can stay safe within the park.
In addition, each regional director, by way of an administrative decision, can regulate the public use of the parks, establishing the maximum amount of people allowed in the park, sectors, on paths or in facilities; and if deemed necessary to ensure people’s safety, can call for the complete or partial closure of sectors, paths or facilities.