ASHEVILLE — Blue Ridge Parkway officials are increasing recreational access to sections of the road previously closed to motor vehicle traffic in North Carolina following guidance from the White House, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state and local public health authorities.
The National Park Service stated that it is working with federal, state and local public health authorities to closely monitor the COVID-19 pandemic, and is using a phased approach to increase access to the Parkway and park sites across the country.
Beginning Saturday, May 9, the Blue Ridge Parkway will reopen gates providing motor vehicle access to the southernmost 14 miles of the park — from Milepost 454 to 469 — in coordination with the Qualla Boundary and Great Smoky Mountains National Park planned reopening.
The following Friday on May 15, the Parkway will reopen gates providing motor vehicle access to eight locations in North Carolina once initial seasonal mowing and road preparations are complete.
These locations include:
- Milepost 292-296.5 near Blowing Rock, including Moses Cone Parking Area and U.S. 221 Bass Lake Parking Lot
- Milepost 298.6-308 through Grandfather Mountain area, including Rough Ridge and Linn Cove Viaduct
- Milepost 316.4 Linville Falls Spur Road, including parking at Linville Falls trailheads
- Milepost 334-342 including Crabtree Falls Area, near Little Switzerland
- Milepost 355-375.6 from Mt. Mitchell to Ox Creek, including Craggy Gardens
- Milepost 377.4 parking areas at Craven Gap (Town Mountain Road) for Mountains-to-Sea Trail access
- Milepost 384.7 roadside parking at MST trailheads at U.S. 74A Parkway access ramps
- Milepost 393-454 from French Broad River Overlook and south to Soco Gap
“We are pleased to once again provide motor vehicle access to these popular Blue Ridge Parkway locations,” said J.D. Lee, Superintendent of the Blue Ridge Parkway, in a statement. “We know the park’s recreation opportunities and scenic beauty provide important ways to connect with our natural environment during this time, and for many a leisurely drive on the Parkway provides solace.
“Our phased approach to the 2020 visitor season is focused on balancing the enjoyment and protection of this park with the enjoyment and protection of our visitors. I encourage everyone who visits the Parkway in the coming days to recreate responsibly while here, whether that’s social distancing on park trails or driving safely on this beautiful, scenic drive.”
All Parkway trails and other sections of the motor route in North Carolina and Virginia previously accessible to motor vehicle traffic continue to be accessible.
While these areas are accessible for visitors to enjoy, a return to full operations will continue to be phased and services may be limited. When recreating, the public should follow local area health orders in North Carolina and Virginia, practice Leave No Trace principles, avoid crowding and avoid high-risk outdoor activities.
Road maintenance projects are underway in some of these areas, and visitors may experience delays or one-lane closures. To check the Parkway’s road closure information, visit go.nps.gov/roadinfo.
In alignment with federal and state public health guidance, the following areas remain closed at this time:
- Road closure from Milepost 0 to 13 in Virginia
- Milepost 85.9 Peaks of Otter Visitor Center and Sharp Top Parking Areas closed
- Milepost 92.5 Sharp Top Parking Widening closed at Appalachian Trail crossing
- All seasonal visitor service facilities including campgrounds, picnic areas restrooms and visitor centers
The health and safety of Parkway visitors, employees, volunteers and partners continue to be paramount, according to Parkway officials. Officials also stated that in the coming weeks, the operational approach on the Blue Ridge Parkway will be to examine each facility function and service to ensure operations comply with current public health guidance and will be regularly monitored. Park officials will continue to work closely with the NPS Office of Public Health using CDC guidance to ensure public and workspaces are safe and clean for visitors, employees, partners and volunteers.
The CDC has offered guidance to help people recreating in parks and open spaces prevent the spread of infectious diseases. Park officials will continue to monitor all functions to ensure that visitors adhere to CDC guidance for mitigating risks associated with the transmission of COVID-19, and take any additional steps necessary to protect public health.