By Sally Voth
National Park Service officials hope to get Skyline Drive -- snowed-in by superstorm Sandy -- back open by this weekend.
Shenandoah National Park's back country should re-open this morning, public affairs officer Karen Beck-Herzog said Wednesday afternoon.
"But, Skyline Drive remains closed," she said. "For the most part, it's really just due to the snow. We've had some snow along sections of Skyline Drive. We did have some fallen trees. The biggest effect of Hurricane Sandy on the park has been snow."
Compounding the clean-up efforts is the heavy nature of the snow.
"The big issue we're actually having is this is an extremely heavy snow," Beck-Herzog said. "It's very, very wet and heavy, which is making it difficult for our plow operators and may require work with a loader."
The north and south ends of the park closed on Sunday night, she said, and by noon on Monday, all visitors were cleared, according to Beck-Herzog.
Just south of the Thornton Gap entrance near Luray, there is about 12 inches of snow, she said. The snow is about 8-10 inches deep at Big Meadows, and at milepost 27 in the northern district, about 6 inches of snow is on the ground, Beck-Herzog said.
She said maintenance staff, trail crews and fire workers are doing the clearing.
"They've gone in and they've cut trees, and they're plowing now," Beck-Herzog said.
When the back country opens, those wishing to hike can come in from a boundary trail head, she said.
"We do caution people, to remind them there can be either fallen trees that they have to step over, there will be snow at some of the higher elevations," Beck-Herzog advised. "And, please watch for trees above them."
Travel on Parkway restricted
The National Park Service is asking motorists to avoid traveling on the Blue Ridge Parkway over the next several days until weather conditions improve.
In a news release on Wednesday, officials said they are concerned that a large numbers of trees may come down as a result of superstorm Sandy. They also are concerned about significant amounts of snowfall at higher elevations.
All gated sections of the scenic highway in Virginia have been closed and officials expect them to remain closed through at least Wednesday. Motorists are being asked not to travel on un-gated sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway for fear that they risk getting stranded or injured.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
Contact staff writer Sally Voth at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or firstname.lastname@example.org