National Parks Are Now Requiring Masks Outdoors in Crowded Parks. The U.S. Forest Service Has Yet to Follow Suit.

Many of Oregon’s outdoor destinations—including Multnomah Falls, the most visited site in the state—are managed by the Forest Service.

Yesterday, the National Park Service announced that all visitors must wear masks in congested parks, regardless of vaccination status. That requirement includes outdoor spaces that are too crowded for social distancing.

“Visitors to national parks are coming from locations across the country, if not across the world,” National Park Service deputy director Shawn Benge said in a press release. “Because of this, and recognizing that the majority of the United States is currently in substantial or high transmission categories, we are implementing a service-wide mask requirement to ensure our staff and visitors’ safety.”

The National Park Service oversees three sites in Oregon: Crater Lake National Park, and the Oregon Caves and John Day Fossil Beds, which are both national monuments.

But many of Oregon’s scenic destinations—including Multnomah Falls, the most visited outdoor recreation site in the state—are managed by the U.S. Forest Service. Forest Service employees in the Northwest district are required to wear masks indoors and when interacting with visitors, but there’s currently no requirements for visitors.

“We currently don’t have mask mandates at this time,” a spokesperson for the Forest Service told WW. “But we’re standing by.”

Last summer, after a nearly five-month closure, Multnomah Falls reopened with a capped capacity, a mask requirement and one-way paths. Timed entry reservations are currently required to visit the falls, but the one-way paths are gone and masks are no longer required.

Parks across the country have struggled with overcrowding during the pandemic, including recreation sites here in the Pacific Northwest. Last summer, roads to Lake Cushman in Olympic National Park were closed due to overcrowding, and in November, Tillamook County increased day use fees to curb the surge of day use visitors that overwhelmed the Oregon Coast during the pandemic.