In response to numerous requests from surrounding counties regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, Shenandoah National Park is closed last Wednesday until further notice. Virginia highways 211 and 33 remain accessible to pass through, however.
According to a press release from the park, the National Park Service received a letter from the Rappahannock Rapidan Health District (RRHD) of the Virginia Department of Health recommending the full closure of the park. The RRHD includes Madison and Rappahannock counties which border the Shenandoah.
Sally Hubert, public information officer with the Shenandoah, said it was the only letter they received from the department of health asking for a full closure.
However ever since the first requests from Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam came down on March 13, the park has been overrun with visitors. Both Rappahannock and Madison counties requested closure of the trailheads at the boundaries in those counties. Then Page County did. Next, the park service attempted to limit the number of visitors by closing Skyline Drive from Swift Run Gap in Greene County north to Warren County.
“This whole time we’ve been trying to strike a balance,” Hubert said. “We tried closure of Skyline Drive north and it just shifted the people into other areas. We were just having trouble maintaining the right balance. Closing is for the protection of the people coming in and it’s for the protection of our staff, as well as those in boundary counties as visitors pass through to the park.”
Late Tuesday, April 7, Greene County submitted a letter to Jennifer Flynn, Superintendent of Shenandoah National Park, asking for closure of the trailheads in Greene County. There are eight boundary access points into the park in Greene.
“The board (of supervisors) feels that these temporary closures will aid in preventing the continued spread of COVID-19 throughout our community,” Chair Bill Martin, Stanardsville, wrote in the letter.
Hulbert noted the entire park is closed—from back country to trails to Skyline Drive, and that includes bicycle riding on the drive.
She said she had not heard of any park staff being diagnosed with COVID-19, though the majority of park staff is telecommuting where able.
The National Park Service has many digital tools available to explore not only Shenandoah National Park, but the other 62 national parks throughout the country or the more than 400 national park sites.
Visit the website www.youtube.com/user/ShenandoahNPS for little videos about the park. For those youngsters who are interested in the Junior Ranger Program, Hulbert said they can download the book from the website at www.nps.gov/shen and some of the activities can be done in their own backyards. The park will announce when it opens again on its site but also its Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts.
“This is the time to learn about this park and other parks, and then plan your next trip when everything opens back up,” Hulbert said.