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State Parks, lake camp sites slowly resume

SoVaNow.com / May 21, 2020
Camping in the area is gradually resuming — with recreational facilities coming back to life, week by week, albeit with some pauses and interruptions.

Both Virginia State Parks and North Carolina State Parks will be reopening their campground and cabin facilities on Friday, May 22, in time for Memorial Day holiday weekend. In both states, guests are encouraged visit the park system websites and social media pages before heading out to enjoy park facilities — just to make sure

“I encourage everyone to ‘know before they go,’” Virginia State Parks Director Melissa Baker said. “Check the webpage for the park you plan to visit for alerts and updates. Recently, many state parks have reached visitor capacity and had to close early for the day. It’s always good to have an alternate plan.”

NC State Parks have been open for day use activities since May 9 under Phase 1 of Gov. Roy Cooper’s coronavirus response plan, but there have been some bumps in the road.

For instance, this past Saturday, May 16, Kerr Lake State Recreation Area near Henderson, N.C. had to turn away visitors after 11 a.m. once the park filled up. Kerr Lake was one of a number of parks in North Carolina that were closed early Saturday due to crowding issues, with hundreds of people turned away by rangers and staff. “Please reschedule your visit to these parks for a later date,” the park system shared on Twitter Saturday. “Thanks for understanding!”

Visitors at NC State Parks are being encouraged to stay six feet apart from each other — on trails, bridges, and everywhere else — and to not enter restrooms until others have cleared out. Guests also are advised to touch as few surfaces as possible and to not share phones or cameras with other visitors.

Since March, Virginia State Parks have been open for daytime activities such as trail hiking, biking and horseback riding, and boating and fishing. Like North Carolina, the Virginia parks system is urging guests to practice social distancing and other steps to ensure a safe experience in the great outdoors.

The May 22 reopening of campgrounds, cabins, and other park facilities in both states will be a major step forward in bringing back overnight fun in the Lake Country — but to continue the good times through the summer, people also need to play it safe.

State officials in Virginia and North Carolina have warned that parks could be forced to close if there’s a sharp uptick in COVID-19 cases tied to visitor activities.

People are encouraged to get outside and enjoy the parks, but in groups no larger than 10 people. In other words, have a great time — but don’t overdo it.

“In these times of uncertainty, the best thing we think that people can do is to get out, get fresh air, get exercise, commune with nature and our state parks are a great place to do that,” said Clyde Cristman, director of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, which operates Virginia State Parks.

The next step in the phased roll-out of Lake Country camping is the reopening of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers campgrounds on Kerr (Buggs Island) Lake. The Corps has set June 1 as the date to resume camping by the water. Towards that end, the Corps is requiring that campsite reservations be made online at http://www.recreation.gov.

“All current and applicable social distancing requirements will apply in a given area,” according to a May 12 announcement of the campsite plans by the USACE Wilmington District. “Remaining day use areas such as beaches, playground areas and shelters will remain closed until further notice, but will be included in the next phase of our re-opening plans.”

Previously, the Corps agreed to keep open many of the day use areas and boat ramps at district lakes: Kerr Scott Reservoir, Falls Lake and Jordan Lake in North Carolina and Kerr Lake and Philpott Lake in Virginia. On Kerr Lake, most Corps-operated day use facilities have been available for public use this year, although North Bend Park, USACE’s largest campground and recreational site, has been closed.

In its statement announcing the reopening of campgrounds, the Corps notes that certain conditions must be met before normal operations can fully resume on Kerr Lake. Those conditions include: a clear set of national and local opening guidelines and requirements to folow; compatibility with statewide Stay-At-Home and Safer-At-Home orders; satisfactory national and local level COVID-19 case trends; and compliance with all CDC sanitation guidelines.

“Wilmington District will open areas in a phased and conditions based manner once all initial operating conditions have been met and we are sure we can do so in a safe manner,” stated the Corps.

Cautioning that “all plans are subject to change,” the reopening announcements by the Corps, Virginia State Parks and North Carolina State Parks underscore the importance of everyone working together to “keep it safe” — and keep a good thing going through the summer season in the Lake Country.





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