GATLINBURG, Tenn. — Right now in an empty Great Smoky Mountains National Park, nature lives on peacefully.
You can hear water rushing and leaves rustling in the wind but that's it.
No footsteps to be heard.
That serenity will come to an end in many parts of the park on May 9 when the Smokies begin phased reopening.
Popular roads like the Cades Cove Loop and Newfound Gap Road will reopen, as will bathrooms.
Campgrounds are closed, as well as popular trails like Laurel Falls, Clingmans Dome and Alum Cave.
U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt met with park staff Tuesday as they prepared for reopening.
"We're gonna have some things accessible but not necessarily everything's going to be accessible, and we'll work through that as we build along with the governors and along with the local health department," he said.
While visiting the Smokies for the first time, Bernhardt learned the history of Newfound Gap from park superintendent Cassius Cash, taking in the sights from one of the park's most popular overlooks.
"I believe America's parks were America's best idea and that's certainly reaffirmed any moment you can have some opportunity to experience the outdoors with our without other people," said Bernhardt.
He believes people are ready to get back to the parks and will follow any guidelines to keep the mountains open.
"The American people have really taken under their own initiative an understanding to be careful about social distancing," said Bernhardt.
Park staff will open the Smokies in five stages.
For this first stage, rangers will monitor campgrounds and restroom areas. Social distancing is encouraged.
Park officials ask people to check current conditions on their website for updates on which areas of the park are open.