Great Smoky Mountains, Blue Ridge Parkway, issue updates following President’s statement regarding parks reopening

Local Coronavirus Coverage

Great Smoky Mountains National Park (B.Stack/WJHL)

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – At a tree-planting ceremony for Earth Day on Wednesday, President Donald Trump announced National Parks and public lands would start to be reopened.

“We will begin to reopen our national parks and our public lands,” President Trump said.

Both the National Park Service and National Forest Service modified operations in areas they govern due to the coronavirus.

As of April 22, a notice on the website for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park stated that “all park areas, except the Foothills Parkway and Spur, will remain closed until further notice. The park is likely to remain closed at least through April 30.”

The April 30 date was given in a release weeks before Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced plans to mostly reopen the state by May 1.

In a statement Wednesday, GSMNP spokesperson Dana Soehn wrote:

“The park has not made a decision about a specific reopening date, but we are actively developing our reopening plans. This includes installing plexiglass shields in our visitor centers, acquiring PPE for maintenance workers responsible for cleaning restrooms, and developing safety protocols for our emergency services staff when responding to people in need in the backcountry and frontcountry.  The park typically has over 1 million visitors in May from across the country. We want to do our best to be prepared in a manner that helps our employees, volunteers, and visitors feel safe before reopening.”

Dana Soehn, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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On the Blue Ridge Parkway, visitors centers, restrooms, campgrounds and other facilities are closed. According to the park website, some sections of the road are closed. However, trails remain open.

A spokesperson for the parkway told News Channel 11 on Thursday that there is “no word yet on reopening dates yet.”

In Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia, the National Forest Service closed numerous shelters, trailheads and adjacent facilities along the Appalachian Trail.

They also announced multiple closures in Cherokee and George Washington and Jefferson National Forests.

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A spokesperson for the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests in Virginia sent News Channel 11 a statement:

As some states lift Shelter In Place orders, we will be working with state and local health agencies to shift Forest Service operations and services as local conditions warrant.

Closing any site for any reason is not one we take lightly, but protecting our visitors and employees remains our highest priority. We are looking forward to again seeing these sites filled with the people from the communities we serve, enjoying the full benefits their national forests have to offer.

Nadine Siak, George Washington & Jefferson National Forests

A request for comment from Cherokee National Forest officials was not returned as of time of publishing this story.

While national public lands remain closed, state parks in Virginia are open for day-use. Most Tennessee State Parks will reopen for day-use only starting April 24. You can find more information here.

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