PAGE COUNTY, Va. (WHSV) — For the first time in more than a month, Shenandoah National Park is reopening to the public – gradually. Some rules, such as social distancing, will need to be followed, and not all parts of the park are opening all at once.
The park has been closed since April 8th after concerns that too many people were visiting and not following health guidelines.
Many counties around the area shared their concerns with the park, and the park made the decision to close.
Now, the park reopens in time for Memorial Day weekend, which is usually one of their busiest weekends of the year.
Park staff are urging any visitors planning to come over the weekend to keep the other people around them in mind during this pandemic.
"We realize that many of our trails are narrow, so if you are hiking down the trail and you see people hiking up the trail, please step off the trail and get 6 feet off the trail and let those people pass," said Sally Hurlbert, Shenandoah National Park spokesperson.
"Many of our destinations at Shenandoah are at the top of mountains and waterfall viewpoints... those areas are very small and limited, so when people get to those spots, we ask that they take turns," said Hurlbert.
Skyline Drive will be open on Saturday, May 23, along with most trailheads that you can access from the drive. The park is open for day use only at this time and will close at 10 p.m.
Specifically, these parts of the park will reopen on May 23 for day-use from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m.:
• The entire length of Skyline Drive from mile 0 at Front Royal to mile 105 at Waynesboro will be open to all traffic.
• The backcountry will be open to day-use only. Over 480 miles of trails will be accessible from trailheads along Skyline Drive.
• Vehicle parking along Skyline Drive at overlooks and trailhead parking areas will be in designated areas only. If parking area is full, please do not park outside of the designated area, move on to a less crowded area.
• Entrance stations will be staffed and entrance fees collected.
• Limited restrooms will be open at Dickey Ridge Visitor Center (mile 4.6), Panorama (mile 31.5), Byrd Visitor Center (mile 51) and Beagle Gap (mile 99.5).
The following facilities will remain closed for now:
• Skyline Drive will be closed nightly from 10:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m.
• Backcountry camping will not be authorized.
• Visitor centers, picnic areas, campgrounds, lodges, cabins, Massanutten Lodge, and Rapidan Camp historic structures will remain closed.
• Old Rag and Whiteoak Canyon/Cedar Run circuit trails will remain closed.
• Boundary trailheads will remain inaccessible.
According to the National Park Service, retail shops and food and beverage areas are staying closed at this time, but may become accessible during Phase 1, provided they all meet the mandatory requirements under state guidelines.
Shenandoah National Park says the health safety of their visitors, employees, volunteers, and partners is the most important factor for them, so their operational approach is to examine each facility, function, and service to ensure all operations comply with public health guidance.
They'll be continuing to work with the NPS Office of Public Health, using the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines, to make sure all public areas and workspaces are safe and clean for visitors and employees.
While some areas are opening up to visitors, services may be limited as a return to full operations is slowly phased in. You can find the local health orders at https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/prevention-tips/ before heading out.
With limited staffing, you're also asked to avoid high risk activities, avoid crowding, and practice 'Leave No Trace' principles.
The Shenandoah National Park offers virtual tours online here as well.
They'll continue to post updates on park operations on their website.