National forests start reopening access points to Appalachian Trail

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GEORGE WASHINGTON NATIONAL FOREST, Va. (WHSV) — After nearly two months of trailheads and access points to the Appalachain Trail being closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Forest Service is planning to start reopening some areas ahead of Memorial Day weekend.

Back on March 30, the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests announced that they were temporarily shutting down all trailhead facilities and other access points to the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. The move was meant to prevent groups from congregating there as a way to protect public health and safety.

In the days leading up to the decision, both national forests and national parks were dealing with large crowds of people that made social distancing on trails nearly impossible.

Now, according to the U.S. Forest Service, on May 22, they will open a series of trailheads and access points to the Appalachian Trail, with a coordinated reopening between the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests in Georgia, Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests in North Carolina, Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee and George Washington and Jefferson National Forests in Virginia.

However, the Forest Service says the Triple Crown in Virginia will remain closed, and that includes the Dragon's Tooth trailhead.

Anyone who plans to use the trails is asked to recreate responsibly outdoors, avoid congregating at parking areas, refrain from gathering in large groups and maintain 6 feet of distance from others, especially when passing other hikers.

Specifically, visitors are asked to avoid groups of more than ten people.

Visitors to the National Forests are urged to follow the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines for preventing COVID-19.

Not all trails and roads in the national forests are open yet, and as work continues on that, Forest Service staffing may be limited to encourage social distancing. That could also result in delays in rescue operations, so visitors are asked not to "engage in risky recreation activities at this time," including activities like rock climbing.

Bathroom facilities, shelters, and many day-use areas will remain closed for now.

Campgrounds and picnic shelters have been unavailable for reservation on Recreation.gov. No announcements have yet been made on reopening plans for National Forest campgrounds.

These are the trailheads previously closed in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests:

Jennings Creek Trailhead
Petite’s Gap Trailhead
Long Mountain Wayside Trailhead
Mount Pleasant/Hog Camp Gap Trailhead
James River Footbridge Trailhead
Priest/Three Ridges Trailhead
Crabtree Meadows Trailhead
SR42 Trailhead at O’Lystery Pavilion
Walker Gap Trailhead
Burke’s Garden Trailhead (SR623)
SR615 Trailhead at Laurel Creek (Suiter)
SR52 Trailhead in Bastian
I-77 Trailhead in Bastian
Price Ridge Road Trailhead (Crandon)
SR606 Trailhead (near Trent’s Store)
Angel’s Rest Trailhead
Town of Pearisburg Trailhead
Big Stoney Creek Road Trailhead (Pine Swamp/Peters Mountain Wilderness)
Cherokee Flats Day-Use Area Trailhead
SR613 Trailhead at Wind Rock
War Spur Trailhead at Captain
SR42 Trailhead (Huffman)
SR621 Trailhead (Craig’s Creek)
Audie Murphy Trailhead
SR620 Trailhead (Craig’s Creek)
Dragon’s Tooth Trailhead
Andy Layne Trail Trailhead
Whitetop Mountain/Forest Road 89 Trailhead
Elk Garden Trailhead, SR600 crossing
Scales/Forest Road 613 Trailhead (Pine Mountain Road)
Forest Road 603 Trailhead Parking (near Fox Creek Horse Camp)
Hurricane Campground/Comers Creek Road Trailhead
Hwy 16 Trailhead at Forest Road 650
NRA Headquarters/Hwy 16 Crossing Trailhead
Davis Valley Trailhead, Davis Valley Rd
Tillson Crossing Trailhead, SR 610 Nebo Road

These facilities have been closed throughout the pandemic.

The following facilities in the North River Ranger District:

• Hone Quarry Campground and Day Use Area
• North River Campground
• Brandywine Campground and Day Use Area
• Todd Lake Campground and Day Use Area
• Shaws Fork Equestrian Campground
• Camp Run Campground
• Briery Branch Day Use Area
• Elkhorn Lake Day Use Area
• Staunton Dam Picnic Area
• Blue Hole Day Use Area
• Braley Pond Day Use Area
• Mountain House Day Use Area
• Hite Hollow Shooting Range
• West Side Shooting Range
• August Springs Wetlands Interpretive Trail Restroom
• Confederate Breastworks Restroom

The following facilities in the Lee Ranger District:

• Peters Mill Run/Taskers Gap OHV Trail Complex
• Wolf Gap Campground and Picnic Area
• Little Fort Campground
• Elizabeth Furnace Family Campground, Day Use Area and Group Camp
• Camp Roosevelt Campground and Picnic Area
• Trout Pond Recreation Campground, Day Use Area, and Rockcliff Lake
• Hawk Campground and Group Camp
• Lions Tale National Recreation Trail Restroom

The national forests say their number one priority is the health and safety of the public.

You can learn more about updates on George Washington and Jefferson National Forests facilities and sites at https://www.fs.usda.gov/recmain/gwj/recreation. For the latest national forest status updates, you can check FS.USDA.gov/recmain/gwj/recreation.