GATLINBURG, Tenn. (WATE) – The Great Smoky Mountains National Park plans to start opening May 9, the park service said in a news release Thursday.
“Following guidance from the White House, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and state and local public health authorities, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is increasing recreational access and services,” the news release said. “The National Park Service (NPS) is working service-wide with federal, state, and local public health authorities to closely monitor the COVID-19 pandemic and using a phased approach to increase access on a park-by-park basis.”
Beginning May 9 the park will reopen many roads and trails.
“The health and safety of employees, partners, volunteers, visitors, and local residents remain the highest priority in park reopening decisions,” the release said. “Park managers will examine each facility function and service provided to ensure those operations comply with current public health guidance and will be regularly monitored.”
Park managers will work closely with the National Park Service Office of Public Health using the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance to ensure public and workspace safety, the release said.
“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. “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.”
Park managers are implementing new safety measures in operations and services to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as areas reopen.
Campgrounds, picnic pavilions, visitor centers, and many secondary roads will remain closed during the first reopening phase, which is expected to last for at least two weeks.
Some of these measures will include disinfectant fogging operations for restrooms and public buildings, installation of plexiglass shields at visitor centers, personal protective equipment requirements for maintenance workers, new safety protocols for emergency services staff, and reduced group size limits.
While many areas will be accessible for visitors to enjoy, a return to full operations will continue to be phased and services may be limited.
The park typically has more than one million visitors each month, May through October, from across the country.
For the most up to date information about facility openings, service hours, and access, please visit the park website at www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/conditions.htm. Park rangers remain available to answer questions and help with trip planning via email or phone during business hours at (865) 436-1291, (828) 506-8620, or email GRSM_Smokies_Information@nps.gov.