Stretches of Blue Ridge Parkway closed in NC in effort to slow spread of COVID-19

Stretches of Blue Ridge Parkway closed in NC in effort to slow spread of COVID-19

RALEIGH, N.C. — Fourteen miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway through southwestern North Carolina were closed to the public Tuesday in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus, the National Park Service announced.

Those concerns were for social distancing, trash accumulation and safety along parts of the Parkway.

Officials did not say when the stretch, ranging from the Soco Gap to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, would reopen.

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Near Blowing Rock, gates are closed along the Blue Ridge Parkway leading to Grandfather Mountain, Price Park and the Moses Cone Manor.

Signs redirect traffic off the Parkway in Watauga County, which frustrated visitors.

“It’s very disappointing,” visitor Katlyn Mendoza said. “There are beautiful views and scenic. A lot of people go daily.”

There were still sections of the Parkway north of Blowing Rock that remained open and even along the areas that were closed, bikers and others could still walk and ride in those areas.

The National Park Service is not allowing camping at any of the campsites along the Parkway.

More than 15 million people visited the Parkway last year.

The service noted that other sections of the parkway, which runs more than 469 miles from Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to the entrance of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina, would remain accessible. Officials noted they would continue to monitor “changing conditions” across the region.

The Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation also warned potential visitors that some of the more popular destinations along the trail, such as attractions near Asheville and Boone, were seeing high visitation rates that could pose challenges to state and federal guidance limiting the amount of people allowed to gather, according to a post on its site.

All pubic restrooms on the parkway were also closed, the foundation said.

The announcement comes as popular national parks across the country closed their gates last month as visitors continued flocking to the sites. Great Smoky Mountains National Park saw visitation rates higher than those recorded at the same time last year, which led to congestion at some sites before its closure Tuesday, officials said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.