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Forest Service limits Appalachian Trail access

Forest Service limits Appalachian Trail access

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ROANOKE — All access points to the Appalachian Trail in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests have been temporarily closed in an attempt to limit the spread of the new coronavirus.

Officials with the U.S. Forest Service said the decision aligns with directives from state and federal health officials.

“The health and safety of our employees and the public remain our top priority,” Joby Timm, forest supervisor, said in a news release.

Signs are being posted at all trailhead facilities, parking lots and other access points. The move follows an advisory issued last week by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, urging hikers to stay off the 2,000-plus-mile scenic footpath from Georgia to Maine.

Other outdoor recreation that allows for social distancing, such as dispersed camping and hiking on some trails, is still being allowed in the national forests.

In addition to the Appalachian Trail, the Forest Service announced late Monday, a number of other sites will be temporarily closed. A full list is available at www.fs.usda.gov/recmain/gwj/recreation.

It was not clear how many Appalachian Trail access points there are in the two national forests, which account for about 1.8 million acres in Virginia and West Virginia. Most questions to the Forest Service were not immediately answered Tuesday.

Nor was it clear how the trail closures will be enforced.

But those who continue to venture out could experience more of a roughing-it venture than they expected.

The Forest Service warned that search-and-rescue operations may be limited by the COVID-19 outbreak, and it encouraged people to avoid high-risk activities, such as rock-climbing.

And the National Park Service, which helps manage the trail, said Saturday that it was closing 11 overnight shelters and 12 privies along the footpath’s route through Virginia.

Closure of Appalachian Trail access points in the national forest follows similar actions in the Nantahala and Pisgah national forests in North Carolina and the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee.

Andrew Downs, a regional director for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy based in Roanoke, said he had observed a significant decrease in hikers on the trail in Southwest Virginia since last week.

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