Shenandoah National Park starting plan to gradually reopen this weekend

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SHENANDOAH NATIONAL PARK (WHSV) — Shenandoah National Park, which has been shut down due to COVID-19 since April 8, is starting the process of gradually reopening this coming Memorial Day weekend.

Check the Shenandoah National Park website or Facebook page for the newest updates on COVID-19 related closures.

At the start of April, after making frequent changes every few days to accommodate CDC guidelines at the park, the national park determined they would have to close to protect the health and safety of their visitors, employees, volunteers, and partners, especially since trails and other areas had been so crowded with people that social distancing was not possible.

For the past month and a half, the only portions of the park that have remained open are state highways Rt. 211 and Rt. 33.

But with Virginia now in Phase 1 of Governor Ralph Northam's 'Forward Virginia' plan for reopening, national forests and national parks are gradually restarting their services.

Earlier on May 21, the U.S. Forest Service announced that the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests would be reopening access points to the Appalachian Trail and trailheads.

By the afternoon, the Shenandoah National Park issued their announcement on plans to start increasing recreational access to park trails and the Skyline Drive.

According to an announcement from Park Superintendent Sally Hurlbert, Shenandoah National Park will start opening select areas as of 8 a.m. on Saturday, May 23.

They're making the decision based on guidance from the CDC, White House, and state and local health authorities, in partnership with the National Park Service.

The parts of that park that will reopen on Saturday are as follows, for day-use only, 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 also offers virtual tours online here.

They'll continue to post updates on park operations on their website.