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Cumberland Gap National Historical Park reopens trailheads after COVID-19 closure

Picnic shelters, restrooms, and the visitor center remain closed. Law enforcement rangers continue to patrol, monitor the park, and enforce all rules.
Credit: ©Byron Jorjorian
Mountain view of the Ataya tract and Cumberland Mountains from Cumberland Gap National Historic Park in Tennessee

MIDDLESBORO, Ky. — Update 5/14/2020: Cumberland Gap National Historical Park is reopening all trailheads as part of its phased reopening process. 

The park closed on March 30 and remained closed through April. Some areas of the park remain closed, park officials said in a press release Thursday:

  • Pinnacle Road
  • Wilderness Road Campground
  • Backcountry Campsites
  • Visitor Center
  • Picnic Shelters
  • Restrooms

While the Pinnacle Road is closed, visitors can still hike several trails leading to the Pinnacle Overlook. Visitors accessing the Lewis Hollow Trailhead will need to park in the Colson Lane parking area on the entrance road leading to the Wilderness Road Campground. 

The park said it will keep working with the National Parks Services as it reopens in phases. 

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Original Story: Starting at noon on Monday, March 30, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park will be closed to all park visitors until further notice to support federal, state, and local efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19, according to a release from the park.

This closure includes all park trails, the Pinnacle Road and Overlook, the Visitor Center and Parking Area, all restrooms, the Wilderness Road Campground and Picnic Area, the Bartlett Park Road and Picnic Area, the Sugar Run Picnic Area, the Civic Park Picnic Area, and all backcountry campsites, according to the park.

Law enforcement rangers will continue to patrol, monitor the park, and enforce all rules.

KY Co Hwy 988, US 25E through the Cumberland Gap Highway Tunnel, and VA Hwy 58 through the park will remain accessible to traffic, according to park officials.

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“During this pandemic, this park closure is necessary to ensure that visitor, employee, volunteer and park partner lives are not put at further risk,” states Park Superintendent Charles Sellars. “Visitors need to think hard about the trickle-down effect of their ‘All I’m doing is going out for a hike,’” emphasizes Sellars. “If a visitor were injured, the park’s limited staffing would literally mean hours for a rescue. Once a rescue is initiated, the park’s emergency response personnel would be at high risk due to the close proximity required to stabilize the visitor and also during the carry-out. An injured visitor puts additional strain on medical personnel at hospitals already dealing with the novel coronavirus.”

Personal protective equipment (PPE), which the park is having to purchase to keep park members safe as they perform routine duties, is also placing an additional burden on the dwindling PPE supplies required at hospitals and other medical facilities throughout the US, according to the park.

Though rain has been frequent, the recent high temperatures and high winds already have fire danger moving into higher categories. Fire danger substantially increases when visitors are in the park.

“All of our resources are engaged in our efforts with the COVID-19 response. At this time, we would not want to be doing double duty in fighting a preventable wildland fire,” Sellars said.

Updates are being posted to the park’s website and Facebook page. The park’s website also has a variety of ways to explore the park via an “armchair visit.” Updates about NPS operations will be posted on the park system's website.

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