The Monongahela National Forest has reopened a number of campgrounds, day use areas, picnic areas, scenic overlooks and observation towers in time for use by Memorial Day weekend visitors.
All developed recreation facilities in the 921,150-acre national forest have been closed since March 31, due to concerns over health risks posed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Gatherings of more than 10 people remain prohibited at the newly reopened sites, and social distancing and other state and federal COVID-19 safety recommendations are encouraged and will be monitored by Forest Service personnel.
Sites reopened on Thursday included two Bartow-area day use areas at Civil War sites within the forest — Camp Allegheny and Cheat Summit Fort.
Former U.S. Forest Service fire towers now used as public observation points have reopened at Bickle Knob, near Elkins, and atop Backbone Mountain south of Parsons, site of the Olson Observation Tower.
Campgrounds (minus group campsites) and picnic areas have reopened at Stuart Recreation Area near Elkins, and Horseshoe Recreation Area near Parsons, along with Big Bend Campground near Petersburg, Seneca Shadows Campground at Seneca Rocks, and Spruce Knob Lake Campground.
Also reopened are the Seneca Rocks Picnic Area (but not its picnic shelter) and trailhead, and, east of Richwood, the Summit Lake Day Use Area (but not its campground), Falls of Hills Creek Trail, Cranberry Glades Boardwalk, Highland Scenic Highway overlooks, and Williams River fishing pier, just off the scenic highway.
“While we understand there may be some excitement to return to these recreation areas, there may be limited services or spaces available,” said Monongahela National Forest Superintendent Shawn Cochran, who announced the reopenings. He urged visitors to avoid congregating at trailheads, parking areas and other contact points.