BLOWING ROCK, N.C. — One of the most popular tourist attractions in the mountains has shut down again because of the pandemic. Tweetsie Railroad in Blowing Rock has closed again, just one week after reopening.
According to the park’s website, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services said the train could not run during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The closure was announced Monday, six days after the park reopened its doors.
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Each year, thousands of people visit Tweetsie Railroad, but last week looked a little different -- guests and workers were required to wear masks and social distance.
The park said that it was following national, state and CDC guidelines -- the capacity of the open-air train car was only 50% and groups were being told they will need to leave a seat between each other to maintain social distancing.
The amusement rides and animal areas were off-limits to guests.
But even with the extra safety guidelines, state health officials forced the park to shut down, canceling several special events.
“We have no choice but to close the park and cancel upcoming special events, including K-9s in Flight, Railroad Heritage Weekend, and Ghost Train,” the park said in a statement.
President of Tweetsie Railroad, Chris Robbins, told Channel 9′s Dave Faherty that they were heartbroken by the decision. He said the park spent thousands of dollars to reopen and now hundreds of his employees are out of work again.
He thought the reopening last week was permissible under the governor’s order after getting guidance from local health officials.
“It’s very frustrating and disheartening,” he said. “You know, everybody’s suffering out there. At least we gave people a chance to enjoy themselves with their families for the very brief period that we were open. I feel bad four employees.”
During a typical summer, Tweetsie employs 250 seasonal workers. Now there will only be about a dozen maintaining the property.
Park officials said once amusement parks are cleared to reopen, they will reevaluate the possibility of welcoming guests back to Tweetsie Railroad and hosting Tweetsie Christmas.
Season pass holders are being told their passes will be good next year.
“We came down here from Minnesota about a thousand miles away and we were gonna do the train, but then we found out it was shut down and all the employees got laid off,” said Scott McDowell, who spoke to Channel 9 outside the park Tuesday morning.
“It’s outdoors, so it doesn’t make sense to me,” said his wife, Connie McDowell.
Our area’s biggest amusement park, Carowinds is still not open. Since half of the park is in North Carolina, it can’t reopen until Phase 3.
The park hasn’t said what safety measures it will have when it does reopen.
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