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COVID-19 impacts outdoors offerings

Coronavirus concerns have prompted a slew of operational and scheduling changes for outdoors-oriented agencies and organizations across the region. 

Great Smoky Mountains National Park:

  • Except for the Foothills Parkway and the Spur, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is now closed through Monday, April 6. All campgrounds, picnic areas and restrooms will be closed through April 30. Sugarlands, Oconaluftee and Cades Cove visitor centers are closed until further notice. 
  • The Great Smoky Mountains Association has suspended its bookstore, orientation shelter and historical demonstration operations in visitor centers throughout the park. 
  • Reservations are suspended for gatherings through April 30 at Appalachian Clubhouse, Spence Cabin, Cades Cove Primitive Baptist Church, Cades Cove Missionary Baptist Church, Cades Cove Methodist Church and Smokemont Baptist Church. All requests for reservation cancellations will be honored with a full refund and no penalty. 

Blue Ridge Parkway

  • Miles 455 through 469 are closed.
  • All restrooms are closed. 
  • A 10-person maximum is in effect at all backcountry camping locations, and no more than six people are allowed to occupy any one campsite. Some specific locations, including Johns River Road, Basin Cove and CCC Camp, have additional occupancy limits. Permits can be acquired by phone from the district office closest to the desired backcountry site location. 
  • The Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center at milepost 383 in Asheville is closed until further notice. 
  • Roads and trails will remain open where not otherwise closed due to weather. 
  • Decisions regarding planned seasonal openings such as park campgrounds and visitor centers will be made at a later date. 

U.S. Forest Service

  • Off-highway vehicle trail systems in the National Forests in North Carolina are shut down through at least May 15. This policy applies to the Brown Mountain OHV Area in the Pisgah National Forest, the Wayehutta OHV Area in the Nantahala National Forest, and areas of the Croatan and Uwharrie national forests.

  • All campgrounds are closed on national forest lands in North Carolina as of Monday, March 23, extending through at least May 15. The closure includes campgrounds operated by concessionaires and any day-use areas associated with those campgrounds. 
  • Ranger district offices are closed to walk-in traffic. Visitors are asked to call ahead to obtain entrance, which may include setting up an appointment. However, visitors are asked not to request a visit if: they or somebody they have been in frequent contact with has had contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19; they in the last 14 days traveled through or had contact with someone who traveled through a Centers for Disease Control Level 2 or 3 country or a State Department Level 3 or 4 country; or they have or in the last 24 hours had any cold or flu symptoms. 
  • Scheduled open houses for the Nantahala and Pisgah Forest Plan Revision have been canceled. Information and presentations from the canceled meetings will be provided online at www.fs.usda.gov/goto/nfsnc/nprevision. The public comment period will be extended from the original May 14 deadline. 
  • Prescribed fire activity on national forest lands is suspended in the southern states until further notice in order to support social distancing for fire crews and protect community members from respiratory irritation from smoke. 

Other updates:

  • Dupont State Recreation Forest and neighboring Holmes Educational State Forest closed March 24 in response to the COVID-19 crisis following a visitor-heavy weekend that made social distancing guidelines difficult to follow. All trails, trailheads and forest facilities are closed until further notice. Parking areas, both designated and roadside, are barricaded in the interest of public safety.

  • The Appalachian Trail Conservancy has suspended thru-hiking registrations and is asking day hikers and backpackers alike to stay off the trail until further notice. 
  • In Cherokee, the skate park, Wolfetown Soccer Field, Big Cove Stickball Field, Birdtown Batting Cages, Yellowhill and Soco Open-Air Basketball Court, all playgrounds and all picnic areas are closed until further notice. Previous closures of the Fire Mountain Trails, Soco Falls, Mingo Falls and Oconaluftee Island Park have been lifted, but all visitors should observe social distancing and safety protocols. Entry restrictions are in place on the Qualla Boundary.
  • Most operations are suspended at Nantahala Outdoor Center through March 29, and the Wildwater World Championships in April have been canceled. However, the Nantahala General Store will remain open to support Appalachian Trail thru-hikers.
  • The Appalachian Trail Conservancy is asking all thru-hikers and section hikers to cancel or postpone their hikes. ATC visitor centers are closed until further notice, and volunteers have been recalled from the trail for the next two weeks. 
  • Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail advises against planning a thru-hike at this time and has canceled the Gathering of Friends planned for Surf City this month. 
  • The Highlands Biological Station office is closed through the end of March and the Nature Center will remain closed through May 8. All Nature Center programs have been canceled through April 30.
  • At the N.C. Arboretum, the gift shop, exhibit hall and greenhouse in the Baker Exhibit Center are closed, as are the Education Center and Bistro. All programming, classes and events are canceled through April 30. 
  • Cataloochee Trout Unlimited has canceled planned trout stockings and meetings this spring. The next meeting will not be held until September. 
  • Mainspring Conservation Trust is canceling all volunteer workdays until further notice, and offices are closed to the public. Staff members are available via phone or email. 
  • Recreation centers in Cullowhee, Cashiers and Waynesville are closed. 
  • The Nantahala Hiking Club has canceled all hikes and events through April 17, at which time the club will review the situation. 
  • Carolina Mountain Club has canceled all hikes and events until further notice. 
  • Haywood Waterways Association has canceled all events until further notice. 
  • The Haywood County Cooperative Extension Center is closed, but agents are still available by phone and email. 
  • Landmark Learning has canceled all NOLS Wilderness Medicine coursework through April 23. 
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