GATLINBURG, Tenn. — When the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) begins its first phase of reopening May 9, its success depends on help from visitors to fight the spread of COVID-19.
The national park is hammering home the message online with the hashtag #SmokiesSafe.
"We really want people to come to the park and recreate in a very responsible way, keeping themselves safe and the visitors around them safe," said Dana Soehn, GSMNP spokesperson.
The park has been closed since March 24. It begins reopening in phases May 9 with most of the roads, trails, and restrooms open to visitors. Visitor centers, campgrounds, and secondary roads will remain closed during the first two weeks.
Moving to the next phase of reopening after two weeks will depend on what the virus is doing in surrounding communities and how visitors behave in the park.
"It's really hard to have social distancing in the Smokies/ We usually have about a million visitors during the month of May. We need people to really take that into account as they plan their visit," said Soehn.
The #SmokiesSafe messages begin with reminding people to stay home if they are sick. Delay your trip if you do not feel well or if you have had any contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.
The park posted a #SmokiesSafe message on social media this weekend asking visitors to avoid crowded areas. If parking lots are full at trailheads or overlooks, go somewhere else.
"That trail is going to be too crowded for you to have proper social distancing. We have 800 miles of trails in the park. Find one that is not as popular or crowded," said Soehn.
When you're on the trail, hike #SmokiesSafe by keeping at least six feet between yourself and others. Again, you may want to search for trails that are not as busy.
The park is warning visitors many restrooms may be closed during the initial reopening phase. Visitor centers will also be closed. Bring your own supplies to keep your hands clean, along with food and water.
"And we want to make sure people are thinking about bringing hand sanitizer, and bringing water, snacks, everything they need. Pack it in, but also pack it out and take those items with them when they leave," said Soehn.
For restrooms that are open, be sure to wash your hands and try to keep the area clean for other visitors.
All of the #SmokiesSafe recommendations may mean your trip requires more planning than usual. The park encourages visitors to check its website, send emails, or call to allow employees to help plan your visit.
The GSMNP plans to post a full listing of what roads and destinations will be closed during the first phase by Tuesday, May 5.