Thursday’s announcement by Gov. Roy Cooper of a phased-in reopening of North Carolina included a lot of good news. Topping the list: social distancing and other measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus are working — the “curve” is flattening. As a result, aspects of the statewide stay-at-home order will begin lifting on May 8, two weeks from today.
What does that mean to those of us eager to get out and explore beyond our neighborhood?
The key element: parks will be allowed to reopen beginning May 8. Since playgrounds must remain closed until Phase 2 of the lifting, we’re assuming that facilities such as rec centers, visitor centers and restrooms also will remain closed. But trails could begin to reopen. For most of us, the biggest impact of this reopening would be in North Carolina’s 41 state parks, recreation areas and natural areas. Currently, 29 of those parks are completely closed; trails remain open in the remaining 12.
An announcement next week
“We are developing a re-opening plan in phases,” Katie Hall, public information officer with N.C. State Parks and Recreation told us late Thursday afternoon. “That plan should be final sometime next week.”
Hopefully, the first phase of that plan will involve the reopening of trails. Social distancing standards — staying six feet apart and gathering in groups of no more than 10 — would still apply, so any reopening needs to take that into account. And considering the reasons the trails closed in the first place was because those standards couldn’t be enforced, that might pose a problem. Then again, maybe not, for two reasons.
Smart social engineering could minimize the amount of contact between hikers. Already, we’ve seen trails that remain open institute one-way hiking. At the Confluence Natural Area northwest of Hillsborough, the Eno River Association, which manages the preserve, has requested that hikers on its two loop trails hike clockwise. Parks could also publicize their lesser-used entrances to disperse crowds. At Pilot Mountain State Park, for instance, the majority of visitors come in through the main parking area atop the mountain, but the park has six secondary entrances where you can pick up trail.
The approach of summer. The closure of much of the state coincided with the advent of spring weather. Attendance at N.C. State Parks historically spikes during the glorious weather of spring. But come mid-May when temperatures climb into the 80s and the humidity rises, those crowds will diminish. The prospects for summer hiking this year look good.
Phases 2 and 3
The governor stressed that this phased reopening of the state is dependent upon an ongoing downward trend in viral activity: if the number of cases spikes, we’ll see restrictions added back. But if viral activity continues to decrease, Phase 2 would kick in, possibly the end of May/beginning of June. Among other things, restaurants, bars, places of worship and entertainment venues could reopen, with certain restrictions. The size of group gatherings allowed would also increase, to a yet-undetermined number. By extension, it would seem that campgrounds might reopen around this time as well.
And if a positive viral trend continues, possibly around the beginning of July, the number of people allowed to congregate as a group would be expanded further. In our world, that might mean we could begin leading weekend hiking/camping trips in the mountains.
Of course, the places we can explore could be limited; last week, the Pisgah National Forest announced the closing of numerous trails and access roads until Aug. 13, or until otherwise rescinded.
All in all, it looks like our world of adventure will begin reopening in a couple weeks. We’ll keep you updated on how that will happen.
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Explore Your Neighborhood
Even once trails begin to reopen across the state, we’ll continue to advocate for adventures close to home — right out your front door! For more on exploring your neighborhood during these shelter-in-place times, check out our new “Explore Your Neighborho
od: A Guide to Discovering the World Immediately Around You,” available in both ebook and paperback. Includes guidance on everything from how to scout your neighborhood for hidden gems to how to execute your neighborhood treks.