• 68°

State parks adjust during pandemic

Memorial Day weekend served as a kickoff for the area’s state parks, and while all locations are operating under certain restrictions due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, local parks are still offering a variety of safe ways to spend time with the family outdoors.

Joey Dayton, park manager for Bear Creek Lake State Park in Cumberland, said guests were happy to be at the park last weekend. He said that although cabins won’t be available to use until June 10, campgrounds were open starting last Thursday, May 21.

Bear Creek Lake State Park’s archery range is also open and guests can bring and use their own equipment.

Dayton added that the beach at Bear Creek Lake is currently closed, although visitors will still be able to enjoy fishing, hiking or taking boats out on the water. He stressed that campers should still adhere to social distancing guidelines and be courteous to others sharing the park.

He highlighted the hard work done by the park’s rangers and other staff to ensure the safety of visitors, adding that parkgoers should be aware the park’s bathrooms will be closed for half hour periods throughout each day as employees thoroughly sanitize the restrooms.

“I’d like to give some accolades to my staff, because they’ve done a tremendous job getting the park ready for the campers and for increased visitation, especially given the fact that some policy and procedures are changing.”

Veronica Flick, park manager at Twin Lakes State Park in Prince Edward County, said the park saw a good number of guests during Memorial Day weekend. Although the Twin Lakes campground was closed due to maintenance being performed on the camp’s septic system, Flick said the park still did boat rentals, and the trails were still open for hiking. She added the park saw many guests take to the lakes on their canoes and kayaks and the office at the park was open for customer service.

Flick said most of Virginia’s state parks are in the process of opening in phases, with some parks moving at faster paces than others.

She said Twin Lakes State Park is aiming to open its campground in mid-to-late June.

Flick said no inland state parks are allowing guests on their beaches right now, and the park is not doing cabin rentals for the time being, but visitors were still able to find a variety of outdoor activities to enjoy over the weekend.

“We still had lots of people grilling out or picnicking, hiking, and we’ve seen a good bit of fishermen as well.”

She said that while the park has had to limit certain activities typically offered during the summer, there are still plenty of ways campers and their families can enjoy what the park has to offer.

“Pandemic or no pandemic, as long as you are social distancing and maintaining good hygiene, outdoor recreation is so good for lots of reasons,” she said.

Twin Lakes, according to Flick, is offering visitors a way to still learn about the park and its opportunities without interacting with others by leaving brochures outside the office. The brochures instruct guests on how to take self-guided trail tours detailing the history of the park, as well as instructions on how to partake in geocaching.

Over at High Bridge Trail State Park, Park Manager Daniel Jordan said the trail has actually seen more traffic this year compared to the same time last year. Jordan said the park’s 31 miles of trail have attracted many, especially at a time in which typical Memorial Day attractions such as public swimming pools are closed for the time being.

He said it has actually become very difficult to buy a bicycle now, and that nearby outdoor recreation stores are having trouble keeping bikes in stock due to the popularity of riding trails.

“As far as the park goes, we are thankful that we are in a position to accommodate people and their need to get outside and get some exercise and vitamin D.”

Jordan said High Bridge was busier than normal on Memorial Day this year, and the park even had to close two parking lots after reaching maximum capacity. He said trail-goers were directed into parking lots when other cars exited, and park staff were able to divert traffic to other parking lots along the trail when needed.

Social distancing is still being implemented along the trail, and Jordan said signage has been posted along the bridge instructing guests to stay to the right and maintain distancing guidelines. He added visitors have, for the most part, been very respectful of the instructions.

High Bridge Trail State Park has not been completely unaffected by the pandemic, though. Jordan explained that in-person programming has been canceled for the time being, although online programs are available to those with internet access through the Virginia State Parks Facebook page.

He added that the trail’s signature event, the Firefly Festival, to be held June 19 and 20, has been canceled this year.

For the latest updates on changes to state park operations as a result of the coronavirus, visit https://www.dcr.virginia.gov/state-parks/COVID-19-update.