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National Parks to Start Partial Reopening

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National Parks to Start Partial Reopening
Visitors to Yellowstone National Park at the view point overlooking Mammoth Hot Springs. hugh rhine / CC BY 2.0

If you're looking to get outside and enjoy the remarkable vistas that the U.S. national parks offer, you may be in luck. Some national parks are planning a phased reopening.


Two of the nation's most popular national parks, Yellowstone and Grand Canyon, are starting to allow visitors. Yellowstone will reopen on a limited basis, starting on Monday, May 18. Yellowstone has been closed to visitors since March 24, according to CNN.

That has not stopped people from visiting anyway. On Tuesday, a woman suffered burns after sneaking into the park and falling into a thermal pool while backing up to take photographs of the Old Faithful geyser, as The Associated Press reported.

Wyoming asked to have the park reopen, so the first phase of reopening will only allow admission to entrance gates in Wyoming and access to the park's southern loop. Entrances in Montana will remain closed, as CNN reported.

"I would prefer it's not just a light switch and the park is open and we get inundated and overwhelmed and aren't able to handle it," said Cam Sholly, the park's superintendent, as The Associated Press reported.

Sholly added that a massive amount of signage will encourage social distancing and the public's behavior will help determine when the park can open fully.

According to CNN, Grand Canyon National Park will reopen the South Rim South Entrance from May 15-18. The entrance will allow incoming traffic to enter for daytime access from 6 to 10 a.m. Certain viewpoints, picnic areas and restrooms will be open for use. However, the South Rim's East Entrance, Desert View, Grand Canyon Village and a number of trails will remain closed.

"This initial reopening phase will increase access to our public lands in a responsible way by offering the main feature of the park for the public, the view of the canyon, while reducing the potential exposure of COVID-19 to our nearly 2,500 residents," Grand Canyon National Park superintendent Ed Keable said in a press release, as USA TODAY reported.

In Utah, national parks will reopen in phases. Zion, Utah's most popular national park, will reopen Wednesday, but shuttle buses to some of the park's most popular attractions will remain closed. Campgrounds and wilderness hikes that require permits will also remain closed, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.

Arches and Canyonlands will reopen on May 29 with almost all trails, roads and restrooms available to the public. However, the visitor center will remain closed, as will Arches Fiery Furnace, a popular hike.

"That trail is so narrow in places that it is impossible for us to keep people safe in there," said Angie Richman, the parks' chief of interpretation, noting that it would be impossible for visitors to socially distance, as The Salt Lake Tribune reported. "We don't know when we will be able to reopen it."

In Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park will start to reopen on May 27. Businesses in Estes Park, the town that borders the park, are using the two-week notice to disinfect and put protocols in place for operating while maintaining social distance. The downtown shopping district even requires mask wearing outside, as CBS News Denver reported.

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By Elliot Douglas

In early October, Britain's Prince William teamed up with conservationist David Attenborough to launch the Earthshot Prize, a new award for environmentalist innovation. The Earthshot brands itself the "most prestigious global environment prize in history."

The world-famous wildlife broadcaster and his royal sidekick appear to have played an active role in the prize's inception, and media coverage has focused largely on them as the faces of the campaign.

But the pair are only the frontmen of a much larger movement which has been in development for several years. In addition to a panel of experts who will decide on the winners, the prize's formation took advice from the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace and the Jack Ma Foundation.

With more and more global attention on the climate crisis, celebrity endorsement of environmental causes has become more common. But why do environmental causes recruit famous faces for their campaigns? And what difference can it make?

'Count Me In'

"We need celebrities to reach those people who we cannot reach ourselves," says Sarah Marchildon from the United Nations Climate Change secretariat (UNFCCC) in Bonn, Germany.

Marchildon is a proponent of the use of celebrities to raise awareness of environmental causes. In addition to promoting a selection of climate ambassadors who represent the UN on sustainability issues, Marchildon's team has produced videos with well-known narrators from the entertainment world: among them, Morgan Freeman and Mark Ruffalo.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," Marchildon explains.

"Sometimes they reach out to us themselves, as David Attenborough did recently. And then they can promote the videos on their own social channels which reach more people than we do — for example, if they have 20 million followers and we have 750,000."

Environmental groups focused on their own domestic markets are also taking this approach. One Germany-based organization that uses celebrities in campaigns is the German Zero NGO. Set up in 2019, it advocates for a climate-neutral Germany by 2035.

German Zero produced a video in March 2020 introducing the campaign with "66 celebrities" that supported the campaign, among them Deutschland 83 actor Jonas Nay and former professional footballer Andre Schürrle. They solicit support as well as financial contributions from viewers.

"Count me in," they say, pointing toward the camera. "You too?"

"We are incredibly grateful for the VIPs in our videos," says German Zero spokeswoman Eva-Maria McCormack.

Assessing Success Is Complex

But quantifying the effectiveness of celebrity endorsement of campaigns is not a straightforward process.

"In order to measure effectiveness, first of all you need to define what is meant by success," says Alegria Olmedo, a researcher at the Zoology Department at the University of Oxford.

Olmedo is the author of a study looking at a range of campaigns concerning pangolin consumption, fronted by local and Western celebrities, in Vietnam and China. But she says her biggest stumbling block was knowing how to measure a campaign's success.

"You need a clear theory of change," explains Olmedo. "Have the celebrities actually helped in achieving the campaign's goals? And how do you quantify these goals? Maybe it is increased donations or higher engagement with a cause."

A popular campaign in China in recent years saw famous chefs Zhao Danian and Shu Yi pledge to abstain from cooking endangered wildlife. While the pledge achieved widespread recognition, both Olmedo and Marchildon say it's difficult to know whether it made any difference to people's actions.

"In life we see a thousand messages every day, and it is very hard to pinpoint whether one campaign has actually made a difference in people's behavior," she explains.

Awareness Is Not Enough

Many campaigns that feature celebrities focus on raising awareness rather than on concrete action — which, for researcher Olmedo, raises a further problem in identifying effectiveness.

"Reach should never be a success outcome," she says. "Many campaigns say they reached a certain number of people on social media. But there has been a lot of research that shows that simply giving people information does not mean they are actually going to remember it or act upon it."

But anecdotal evidence from campaigns may suggest reach can make an active difference.

"Our VIP video is by far the most watched on our social media channels," McCormack from German Zero says. "People respond to it very directly. A lot of volunteers of all ages heard about us through that video."

However, some marketing studies have shown that celebrity endorsement of a cause or product can distract from the issue itself, as people only remember the person, not the content of what they were saying.

Choosing the Right Celebrity

Celebrity choice is also very important. Campaigns that use famous faces are often aiming to appeal to members of the public who do not necessarily follow green issues.

For certain campaigns with clear target audiences, choosing a climate scientist or well-known environmentalist rather than a celebrity could be more appealing — Attenborough is a classic example. For others, images and videos involving cute animals may be more likely to get a message heard than attaching a famous face.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," says Marchildon from the UN. "You need figures with credibility."

McCormack cites the example of Katharine Hayhoe, an environmental scientist who is also an evangelical Christian. In the southern United States, Hayhoe has become a celebrity in her own right, appealing to an audience that might not normally be interested in the messages of climate scientists.

But as soon as you get a celebrity involved, campaigns also put themselves at risk of the whims of that celebrity. Prince William and younger members of the royal family have come under fire in recent years for alleged hypocrisy for their backing of environmental campaigns while simultaneously using private jets to fly around the world.

But Does It Really Work?

While environmental campaigns hope that endorsement from well-known figures can boost a campaign, there is little research to back this up.

"The biggest finding [from my study] was that we were unable to produce any evidence that shows that celebrity endorsement of environmental causes makes any difference," says Olmedo.

This will come as a blow to many campaigns that have invested time and effort into relationships with celebrity ambassadors. But for many, the personal message that many celebrities offer in videos like that produced by German Zero and campaigns like the Earthshot Prize are what counts.

The research may not prove this conclusively — but if the public believes a person they respect deeply personally cares about an important issue, they are perhaps more likely to care too.

"I personally believe in the power this can have," says Marchildon. "And if having a celebrity involved can get a single 16-year-old future leader thinking about environmentalist issues — that is enough."

Reposted with permission from DW.

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