SNP OPEN

Chris and Robin Steis, of McLean, sit outside the patio area of Dickey Ridge Visitor Center amid the tall grass along the Skyline Drive near Front Royal on Tuesday.  National parks began a slow reopening Saturday, but most facilities at Shenandoah National Park, including the visitor center at Dickey Ridge, remained closed.

Shenandoah National Park began a slow reopening Saturday as it welcomed visitors for Memorial Day weekend.

Though park visitation was a little low overall, the weekend brought an influx of visitors at Front Royal's entrance to Skyline Drive. Park officials announced Tuesday they recorded 1,623 vehicles entering at the Front Royal entrance on Saturday, 1,790 on Sunday and 1,757 on Monday.

By comparison, in 2019 there were 1,785 vehicles at the Front Royal entrance on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, 1,655 on Sunday and 1,301 on Monday.

Parkwide, from Front Royal to Waynesboro, officials saw fewer visitors this year, which Sally Hurlbert, management specialist for the park, said could be attributed to the weather. Though Saturday offered a beautiful day, she said, Sunday and Monday were marked by fog.

Last year’s holiday weekend brought 16,092 cars to the park, but this year's brought only 12,096.

As part of a phased reopening effort more than 10 weeks into the COVID-19 pandemic, the park has opened Skyline Drive and most of its walking trails, a Thursday news release explains.

Certain park facilities are offering limited access:

  • The backcountry will be open to day-use only. More than 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 a parking area is full, do not park outside of the designated area, but 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).

For the time being, the park is open from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Other facilities remain closed for now, the release states:

  • Skyline Drive will be closed overnight.
  • 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.

Retail shops, food and beverage areas were closed over the weekend but may become accessible soon if they meet the mandatory requirements in the Forward Virginia Guidelines at virginia.gov/coronavirus/forwardvirginia.

The decision to start reopening came after the park received guidance from the White House, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and state and local public health authorities, the park announced Thursday.

It’s part of the National Park Service’s effort to increase recreational access to its parks, the release states. The NPS is working with federal, state and local public health authorities to closely monitor the COVID-19 pandemic.

Next steps for reopening facilities are still unclear, Hurlbert said.

“We don’t know what Phase 2 looks like yet,” she said.

For guidelines from the CDC on how to prevent the spread of illness during recreational activities, visit cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/visitors.html.

For updates on National Park Service operations, visit www.nps.gov/shen or nps.gov/coronavirus.

Contact Josette Keelor at jkeelor@nvdaily.com