Park: Crowds stayed manageable during reopening of Smokies

ADDS NAME OF PARK SUPERINTENDENT - This Wednesday, May 6, 2020 image from a tweet by Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, the Interior Secretary talks with Cassius Cash, the park superintendent, as he visits National Parks Service employees at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. While the Interior Secretary asked visitors to social distance when the park reopens on May 9, neither Bernhardt nor park staff wore face masks in the photos, as they talked and walked inches apart during his visit on Tuesday, May 5. (National Parks Service via AP)
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Crews had to rescue one hiker and dealt with congestion in a few popular places when the Great Smoky Mountains reopened over the weekend, but crowds stayed manageable, a park spokeswoman said Monday.

“The Smokies was a busy place this weekend, but conditions never became overwhelming for staff or visitor congestion,” spokeswoman Dana Soehn said after officials evaluated the weekend’s events.

Major roadways, most trails and some restroom facilities became accessible for the first time Saturday when the attraction became one of the country’s first national parks to reopen after closing in March to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Popular areas including Cades Cove and Newfound Gap were open along with more than 50 trails. Some spots were crowded, including Rainbow Falls Trail, where the parking lot overflowed and people parked roadside. But overall, Soehn said visitor use was dispersed across open areas in the park.

She said the park would continue to push its #SmokiesSafe messages online and on social media to help people plan a safe visit. She said that includes adhering to social distancing guidelines of staying at least 6 feet apart.

The nation’s most visited park on the Tennessee-North Carolina border said it documented people from 26 states and Washington D.C.

“Our employees were able to safely complete their duties throughout the weekend and did not report any significant challenges,” Soehn said.

After 14 days, park officials will evaluate whether to move forward with the next phase of reopening, which would include visitor centers and campgrounds.

The reopening was announced after making sure the park was aligned with federal, state and local authorities and had enough personal protective gear for employees, Soehn has said.