Second Lady of the United States (SLOTUS) Karen Pence enjoyed a rainy day in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on Tuesday.
"You come to a place like this, enjoy the warm sunshine on your faces," she said, then paused to acknowledge the actual weather to the laughter of the crowd. "Or soft mist, like we are today."
The Second Lady was on hand to reopen the road to Clingmans Dome, which has been closed to vehicles since December when it shut down for the winter. The road normally reopens to traffic on April 1, but the entire park was closed March 24 to stem the spread of the coronavirus and the road has remained closed to cars since the park reopened May 9.
"It feels so good to be outside, to be in the beautiful Great Smoky Mountains National Park," she said. "A treat to be here when Clingman’s dome reopens to the public in a safe and responsible way."
The Smokies was the first large national park to reopen to visitors after closing due to the pandemic. It's reopening in phases, with visitor centers and many secondary roads still closed.
Pence acknowledged the importance of reopening America safely.
"The Smokies offers half a million acres to explore. Plenty of opportunities to practice social distancing. No reason to be on top of someone else," she reminded everyone.
She praised the efforts of Americans to put the health of others above themselves during this "new normal" we find ourselves in, by taking measures to stop the spread of the COVID-19.
Pence also talked about the peace you can find in a place like the Smokies.
"They serve as places of solace, respite, even healing," she said.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and a good time to remind everyone to take care of themselves.
She said there has been an increase in calls to suicide prevention lines during the COVID-19 pandemic.
She said it was important to check in with yourself during stressful times. Do things that are special to you, whatever it is, to help you cope. Most importantly, you must talk about challenges your are facing or feeling, and ask for help.
"Painting and enjoying the great outdoors helps me," she said.
She said hiking has many proven benefits, both physical exercise and the mental relief of being outdoors.
"Being in nature can boost your mood and mental health," she concluded. "Come to the park."