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Great Smoky Mountains National Park Will Start Reopening Saturday

Matt Bush
Blue Ridge Public Radio

After weeks of being closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park will start a phased reopening this Saturday May 9th.

Many roads and trails will reopen this Saturday according to a release from the park.  But campgrounds, picnic pavilions, and visitor centers will remain closed during the first phase of reopening.  That first phase will last at least two weeks while public buildings and restrooms are disinfected, and plexiglass shields are put up at visitor centers.  Personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements will also be crafted for maintenance workers during the first phase.

While trails and roads are reopening, the public is urged to avoid crowds when they see one – something which could prove difficult as the Great Smoky Mountains park is the most visited individual national park in the U.S., averaging one million visitors a month from May to October.  “We recognize this closure has been extremely difficult for our local residents, as well as park visitors from across the country, who seek the park as a special place for healing, exercise, recreation, and inspiration,” said Superintendent Cassius Cash in a statement. “We are approaching this phased reopening with that in mind, as we balance our responsibility to protect park resources and the health and safety of everyone.”

Most of the Blue Ridge Parkway remains closed in Western North Carolina (from the NPS website):

  • Milepost 334-342 Road closed, including Crabtree Falls Area, near Little Switzerland, NC
  • Milepost 355-375.6 Road closed from Mt. Mitchell to Ox Creek, including Craggy Gardens
  • Milepost 377.4 Parking areas closed at Craven Gap (Town Mountain Rd) for MST Trail access
  • Milepost 384.7 Roadside parking closed at MST Trailheads at US 74A Parkway access ramps
  • Milepost 393-469 Road closed from French Broad River Overlook to Southern Terminus of Parkway

Visitor centers, campgrounds, back country campsites, picnic areas, and stores and concession facilities are also closed.  Trails under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service are technically open, but with much of the Parkway closed in Western North Carolina, accessing them is difficult.  Hikers are asked to follow social distancing, and to find other trails if they arrive to see one crowded.  More information can be found here.

Matt Bush joined Blue Ridge Public Radio as news director in August 2016. Excited at the opportunity the build up the news service for both stations as well as help launch BPR News, Matt made the jump to Western North Carolina from Washington D.C. For the 8 years prior to coming to Asheville, he worked at the NPR member station in the nation's capital as a reporter and anchor. Matt primarily covered the state of Maryland, including 6 years of covering the statehouse in Annapolis. Prior to that, he worked at WMAL in Washington and Metro Networks in Pittsburgh, the city he was born and raised in.
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