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Staff photo by Tim Barber / Skip Johnson, left, Justice Johnson and Angie Headrick walk outside the Visitors Center at the Raccoon Mountain Pumped Storage facility in Marion County.

If you are getting cabin fever and looking for outdoor solace amid the coronavirus epidemic, state and national campgrounds and parks are staying open for campers, hikers, boaters and other outdoor enthusiasts.

But most group activities, including the popular guided spring hikes this weekend that usually draw thousands of visitors to Tennessee parks, are canceled.

The Tennessee Valley Authority also is delaying indefinitely the opening of its five campgrounds and has closed all of its visitors centers, including its facility atop Raccoon Mountain in Marion County above TVA's pumped storage facility. TVA spokesman Jim Hopson said the federal utility, which has its campgrounds near its dams at Douglas, Cherokee, Melton Hill, Watauga and Pickwick, is delaying what would have been their normal seasonal opening this week for at least 30 days to help limit chances of spreading the coronavirus and to focus on TV's primary missions of power service, flood control, economic development and environmental stewardship.

"This does not effect any of the campgrounds that we lease to local governments or private vendors," Hopson said.

Staffed TVA visitor centers at Fontana, Norris and Kentucky dams that were originally scheduled to open April 4 will be delayed until the current outbreak has abated, Hopson said.

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Photo by Dave Flessner / The Harrison Bay State Park is among 56 state parks in Tennessee staying open during the coronaviris epidemic. But park activities and some facilities have been restricted.

Most national and state parks are open and free to visit, but visitors will find visitor centers, shuttles, lodges and restaurants closed to fight the spread of the coronavirus. In compliance with recommendations by the Center for Disease Control and local and state health authorities, the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park has closed the Chickamauga Battlefield Visitor Center and the Lookout Mountain Visitor along with the Wilder Brigade Monument at Chickamauga Battlefield, Signal Point restrooms, Ochs Museum at Point Park and the America's National Parks Bookstores.

At the Great Smoky Mountains, America' most visited national park in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, the National Parks Service announced this week it is closing Sugarlands, Oconaluftee, and Cades Cove Visitor Centers until further notice.

Jim Bryson, deputy commissioner for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, said state parks are remaining open to provide healthy outdoor alternatives for citizens to relieve stress and improve mental and physical well being during the outbreak.

"Many Tennesseans are going through a stressful time right now, and being outside can help relieve some of that stress and improve our overall well-being," he said. "At our state parks, Tennesseans are able to find solace and joy in nature without compromising good public health practices."

Bryson said this weekend's spring hikes were likely to attract too big of crowds and violate the recommended social distancing requirements.

Kim Schofinski, a spokesman for Tennessee State Parks, said there have been cancellations of major groups at some of the 36 campgrounds 372 rental cabins that the state has at its 56 state parks. But she said "it would be premature to speculate as to forward-looking financial impacts on the park system."

Several dozen campers were enjoying spring break this week staying on many of the 128 campsites at the Harrison Bay State Park on Chickamauga Lake.

"It's a great safe place that's not too crowded and let's our kids run out some energy while we're all quarantined," Cleveland resident Natasha Humphreys said while her children played on the Harrison Bay State Park playground. "We love it out here."

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6340.

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