“Our employees were able to safely complete their duties throughout the weekend and did not report any significant challenges.”

By Alison Fox
May 12, 2020
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Despite the Great Smoky Mountains National Park welcoming visitors from 26 states upon reopening this weekend, crowds were manageable to the delight of park staff.

“The Smokies was a busy place this weekend, but conditions never became overwhelming for staff or visitor congestion,” spokeswoman Dana Soehn told The Associated Press, adding: “Our employees were able to safely complete their duties throughout the weekend and did not report any significant challenges.”

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The park, which sits between North Carolina and Tennessee, started a phased reopening of roads and trails on May 9, but places like campgrounds remain closed. The park will reevaluate the situation after two weeks, the AP noted, and decide if it's then safe to open campgrounds and visitor centers.

To aid in the reopening, the NPS created an interactive map showing which roads are open. The park also promoted social distancing by showing how wide six feet really is — comparing the distance to the size of a large black bear and an elk’s antlers.

While some spots were crowded this weekend — like the Rainbow Falls Trail, which saw parking overflowing — and one hiker needed to be rescued, Soehn said, for the most part, people practiced social distancing, the wire service noted.

The national park sits between two states: North Carolina and Tennessee, which each have their own reopening plans underway. In North Carolina, retail businesses were allowed to open under 50 percent capacity restrictions earlier this month, while in Tennessee, restaurants opened at 50 percent capacity in 89 of 95 counties on April 27.

The park’s opening weekend comes as several national parks begin their own phased reopening plans, including Denali National Park in Alaska, with more scheduled to come. Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, for example, will open up access to all park roads, trails, and restrooms starting May 29, according to the NPS.

Additionally, several parks in Utah are welcoming visitors including Bryce Canyon which has partially opened as well as Zion National Park which will open on May 13.