Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / Signal Point is one of the units of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park that remains closed because of the coronavirus.

Tennessee and local officials have given the OK to businesses such as restaurants, salons and gyms to reopen, but the Chattanooga area hasn't seen the decline in COVID-19 cases necessary to meet the federal government's reopening guidelines for some of its local National Park Service facilities.

While most local city and county parks and trails are now open to the public, portions of Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park such as Signal Point and Point Park remain off limits.

All roads and trails in most areas of Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park, including those in Chickamauga Battlefield, Lookout Mountain Battlefields and Moccasin Bend National Archaeological District, were opened May 15 as part of the park's first phase of reopening.

But areas where 10 or more people tend to gather and where maintaining the recommended 6 feet of social distance would be difficult, such as the overlooks at Signal Point and Point Park, are closed until the area meets federal guidelines for states and regions to proceed with the next phase of reopening, said Brad Bennett, superintendent of Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park.

The reopening discrepancies are causing problems in the town of Signal Mountain, where residents complain that Signal Point visitors are still using the park, but parking and changing clothes on the street and urinating in yards since the parking and restroom facilities are closed. The town previously stationed officers at the Signal Point trailhead, which connects to Signal Mountain's Rainbow Lake trail, before the town reopened its Rainbow Lake trailhead and parking lot.

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Not in the clear yet: Why some Chattanooga area national park facilities aren't ready to reopen


Now the town wants the park service to open its lot at Signal Point, but Bennett said that won't happen until it's safe for large groups to gather.

"In order to move to our second phase, we are closely adhering to the White House guidance which requires that the gating criteria — most notably a 14-day downward trajectory of new COVID-19 cases — be met," said Bennett.

Signal Mountain town manager Boyd Veal noted that 14-day-decline requirement during a June 22 town council meeting, adding "we haven't seen anything that even close to resembles that."

Aside from a decrease in new cases — which can be also measured as a downward trajectory of positive tests as a percent of total tests within a 14-day period, with flat or increasing volume of tests — other gating criteria include a decrease in reported symptoms of both influenza-like illnesses and COVID-like syndromic cases in a 14-day period.

The third recommendation that must be met before moving to the next phase is that area hospitals should be treating all patients without crisis care and should have a testing program in place for at-risk workers, including emerging antibody tests, according to the federal Opening Up America Again guidelines for states and regions.

The fact that national parks draw visitors from a much wider area than city, county, or even state parks is also taken into consideration when determining when to reopen, Bennett said.

"We're seeing rising incident rates in Tennessee and Georgia and Alabama, as well as other bordering states, so we're following the advice of our public health experts and monitoring the data," he said.

The public can safely enjoy the park's 80 miles of trails as long as they can follow U.S. Centers for Disease Control guidelines, including maintaining 6 feet of distance from other parties and wearing a cloth face covering when that's not possible, Bennett said.

As the Tennessee State Parks website recommends, if a parking lot is full, go somewhere else where it's possible to keep a safe distance.

Contact Emily Crisman at or 423-757-6508.

Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park openings and closures

What’s open

Chickamauga Battlefield

* All roads

* All picnic areas (except the Recreation Field)

* All trails

* Vault toilets

* Visitor Center restrooms (side door access) from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Lookout Mountain Battlefield

* All trails

* All picnic areas

* Sanders Road

* Cravens House parking

Missionary Ridge

Orchard Knob

Moccasin Bend National Archeological District

* All trails

What’s closed

Chickamauga Battlefield

* Visitor Center

* Wilder Brigade Monument (tower)

* Recreation Field

* America’s National Parks Bookstore

Lookout Mountain Battlefield

* Point Park

* Ochs Museum

* Ochs Observation Deck

* Visitor Center (including parking lot)

* Sunset Rock parking

* America’s National Parks Bookstore

Signal Point