West Virginia’s 10 state park lodges, the Hatfield-McCoy Trails system, and the seven campgrounds operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at flood control reservoirs across the state were ordered closed on Friday in an effort to check the spread of COVID-19.
“Our state park lodge guests are 69% from outside the state,” Gov. Jim Justice said during a video press briefing. All of the positive COVID-19 tests recorded in West Virginia to date have involved out-of-state travel, according to the governor. Since lodge guests from other states mingle in close proximity with lodge employees and other guests, including the 30% who are West Virginians, Justice said it was prudent to close the lodges as a precautionary measure.
State park restaurants were also ordered closed by the governor, but all cabins, cottages and most outdoor amenities, including trails, campgrounds and picnic areas, will remain open, Justice stressed.
“We want you to get outside and hike, bike and fish, and enjoy yourselves with your families in our state parks and forests,” Justice said. “The outdoors is where you can really get apart from crowds of people” and West Virginia’s state parks and forests offer a number of venues to make such outings possible, he said.
State Parks with lodges include Hawks Nest, Blackwater Falls, Twin Falls, Tygart Lake, North Bend, Canaan Valley Resort, Stonewall Jackson Resort, Pipestem Resort State Park, Cacapon Resort and Chief Logan State Park
The 700-mile Hatfield-McCoy Trails system, which caters to off-highway motorized trail users and generates about $20 million a year in economic activity, is managed by a governing board created by the Legislature. It draws about 85 percent of its riders from other states, Justice said.
The presence of high numbers of out-of-state riders in the small Southern West Virginia trailhead communities that provide lodging and other amenities creates a coronavirus risk similar to state park lodges, according to the governor.
The national headquarters of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Friday announced the start of “an orderly shutdown” of Corps-operated campgrounds at recreation sites adjacent to flood control reservoirs and locks and dams across the nation “to further protect against the spread of the coronavirus.”
The Corps operates eight campgrounds at five West Virginia reservoirs — East Lynn, Summersville, Sutton, Burnsville and R.D. Bailey lakes — all of which ordinarily open in April, but will not be open until at least May 15 this year. Following an evaluation later in the spring, a determination will be made on whether, and for how long, the closure will remain in place.
Campgrounds at Corps of Engineers Beech Fork Lake, Stonewall Jackson Lake and Tygart Lake are operated by the state parks system, and remain open.
The eight Corps of Engineers campgrounds in West Virginia include more than 700 campsites, the largest of which is Bulltown Campground at Burnsville Lake, with 204 sites.
Those who have made reservations for Corps of Engineers campsites will be contacted by email and have refunds automatically sent to them without cancellation fees, according to Friday’s announcement.
Meanwhile, the Corps of Engineers’ announced that most facilities at day use areas at reservoirs and locks and dams in the Huntington District will remain open and fee-free this spring. While boat launch ramps, fishing piers and hiking trails will be remain open, visitor centers, restrooms and playgrounds will be closed.
The Corps of Engineers’ Pittsburgh District took a different tack on Thursday, when it closed all of its recreational facilities at reservoirs and locks and dams under its management to guard against the spread of the virus. Included were West Virginia’s Stonewall Jackson Lake and Tygart Lake.
At Stonewall Jackson Lake, the Corps’ maintains a 300-acre day use area adjacent to Stonewall Jackson Dam. The closure order affects a fishing pier and a hiking trail at that site, and does not involve facilities at Stonewall Jackson Resort State Park or Stonewall Jackson Wildlife Management Area.
At Tygart Lake, the Corps maintains a picnic area with a group shelter and a hiking trail. All facilities at Tygart Lake State Park remain open.
In an effort to check the spread of coronavirus, all visitor centers in the National Park Service’s New River Gorge National River are closed, but all outdoor portions of the 72,800-acre park are open, including more than 100 miles of trails, eight camping areas (all fee-free), picnic areas and boat launch sites.
Active Southern West Virginia, which offers a number of outdoor skills classes in cooperation with the New River Gorge staff, has postponed all group activities until further notice.