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Autumn leaf peepers have other options

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Michael Stark of Germany walks back to his car at the Skyline Drive Entrance Station in Front Royal after a park ranger advised him that Shenandoah National Park is closed due to the government shutdown. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

2013_10_01_Skyline_Closed2.jpg
A sign is posted at the Skyline Drive entrance station in Front Royal advising motorists that Shenandoah National Park is closed. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)


By Ryan Cornell

Tourists getting turned away at the front gates of the Shenandoah National Park due to the government shutdown need not travel far to find alternatives for their trip itineraries.

Tim Smith, visitor center and tourism coordinator for Front Royal and Warren County, suggests visitors check out the stores in downtown Front Royal, the town's walking tour, a historic driving tour of the Battle of Front Royal, the Confederate Rifle Museum, the Warren Heritage Society, Skyline Caverns and local wineries.

"We're just trying to give the alternatives and keep them in the region," he said.

Smith said the tourists visiting the center on Tuesday and Wednesday had traveled from Germany, Austria, Poland, the United Kingdom and British Columbia, Canada.

"People have been very understanding so far," he said.

He said he's been directing people heading south to take Route 340, which runs parallel to Skyline Drive. The highway passes through Waynesboro, where drivers can switch over to the Blue Ridge Parkway and see much of the same scenery and natural beauty available at the Shenandoah National Park. The Blue Ridge Parkway is open to traffic passing through during the shutdown, but all of its campgrounds, lodgings and other attractions are closed.

Smith said Route 340 offers views not only of the mountains, but also the leaves starting to change colors. Another prime spot for leaf peeping, he said, is the Shenandoah River State Park in Bentonville. The park offers camping, interpretive programs, picnic areas, and access to the river.

It's a good time to go down the river, the tourism director said, noting the relatively warm temperatures this weekend. The National Weather Service -- still updated and maintained because the information the site provides is "necessary to protect life and property" -- forecasts a high of 85 degrees Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Tourists looking to fill their camping fix outside of the national park can spend their nights at Gooney Creek Camp, North Fork Resort, Poe's Southfork Campground, Front Royal RV Campground and the Shenandoah River State Park, which has cabins.

A post on the Virginia subreddit by user Ktime5 on Tuesday night asked for some of the lesser-known sights that tourists should check out. Redditors offered suggestions, including the Route 11 Potato Chip factory, Dinosaur Land and "the bajillion wineries we have."

The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, closed by the shutdown, has announced that it will be canceling the Autumn Conservation Festival originally scheduled for Saturday and Sunday. The announcement stated that the festival will not be rescheduled.

The shutdown has only lasted for a day, Smith said in a phone call Wednesday morning, so businesses haven't felt much of an immediate impact yet, but there are residents who are out of work.

"There's people within the community that are federal workers that commute," he said.

During a teleconference on Wednesday afternoon, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-6) urged support for a bill that would provide enough money to just reopen the museums and national parks, including Shenandoah National Park. The House was scheduled to vote on the bill Wednesday night.

"Folks should still plan on coming to visit us," Smith said. "[The park] isn't the only thing in town. They shouldn't cancel their plans."

Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rcornell@nvdaily.com


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