James Madison’s Montpelier is planning to open its grounds, gardens and trails to the public beginning Friday, May 15, if Gov. Ralph Northam proceeds with the first phase of easing restrictions on public gatherings in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a press release Tuesday evening, Montpelier announced it will open its gates and welcome the public to visit the grounds, including the formal gardens, Madison family and enslaved community cemetery and walking trails across the property’s 2,700 acres.
Montpelier has been closed to the public since March 13.
“We’re delighted to open our gates and welcome our members and the community back onto the grounds,” said Roy Young, the new president and CEO of Montpelier. “We want people to think of Montpelier as a place for recreation, to know that this is a vast space where they can responsibly practice social distancing with enjoyment, and to take advantage of the beautiful historic landscape. Bring your leashed pets, walk our trails in the Landmark and Demonstration forests, and visit the gardens. Montpelier is in full bloom and we want to share it with you.”
The grounds will be open Thursday through Monday, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Orange County residents will be admitted free of charge.
All visitors will enter through the front gate and stop at the gate house to access the property. There are three purchase options for non-Orange County residents to access the grounds during the anticipated operating hours: a $10 per car, one-day pass; a $35 per car annual pass for a full year; or the standard $50 annual membership for free year-long access to property, members’ programs, virtual tours, special events and a discount in the museum shop. Visitors are strongly encouraged to purchase their passes online before visiting.
In order to welcome visitors to the grounds safely, Montpelier asks that groups be no larger than 10 and that visitors stay 10 feet away from those not in their party. Staff members at the gate house selling passes and handing out site maps, as well as other staff onsite to assist visitors, will wear masks and gloves. Visitors are encouraged to wear masks; however, it is not required. There will be ample signage to remind guests to socially distance and to enjoy the historic area and walking trails.
All indoor spaces will remain closed and no tours will be offered as of yet.
Young stressed that Montpelier is taking its cues from Gov. Northam’s directives in reopening its grounds and that staff and visitor safety are paramount.
He said gloved and masked Montpelier ambassadors trained in social distancing best practices will be on site to remind visitors of proper safety protocols and also direct them to interesting things they might enjoy across the property’s vast acreage.
Those ambassadors are comprised of frontline staff and senior leadership, including Young.
“Everyone is engaged in making sure the site is safe for visitors and staff members,” he said. “I’m excited to be able to introduce myself to visitors and members.”
Young noted that this doesn’t represent a shift to “business as usual” on the property. Most administrative staff will continue to work remotely.
As Gov. Northam’s office issues further directives for easing restrictions and phasing in the reopening of Virginia, Montpelier anticipates offering outdoor tours and limited access to the visitor center museum shop and restrooms. In the meantime, Montpelier is staying virtually open for business with publicly accessible blog posts, websites, podcasts, online courses, webinars and social media.
Those programs have helped the property transition into what Young called a “hybrid site” when it reopens fully—where on-site programming is married with virtual programming. “Whatever we ultimately offer on-site will be accessible through an online portal,” he added.
Until then, he hopes the local community finds the grounds at Montpelier a place for recreation and reflection.
“Emotionally, this is a good time to do this. People are eager to get outside and see other families from a safe distance,” he said. “Our staff here is dutifully waiting to welcome visitors to our grounds.”
For more information and to purchase an entry pass online, visit www.montpelier.org.