A day before the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park is set to reopen Friday, crews were still clearing from roads and trails the debris caused by the Easter Sunday tornadoes and other severe storms that swept through the area in April.
Brad Bennett, superintendent of the park, said crews did a lot of last-minute work to be sure visitors could take advantage of the parks for the first time in months.
"Quite frankly, we're really down to the wire with a lot of last-minute prep," Bennett said. "It's been a long and hard effort to get these roads cleared."
Bennett said dozens of trees were knocked down during the storm that came through on Easter. Several other severe storms that came later also took down other trees in the Chickamauga park, and crews are still clearing certain sections that will remain closed for the time being.
Starting Friday, all roads, picnic areas and some trails will be open for public use but can only be used for foot traffic. All horse trails will be closed until further notice.
"With 83 miles of trails throughout the various units of the park, there surely is still going to be some downed trees," Bennett said. "We'll just ask visitors and hikers to be understanding and patient and let us know if they spot a tree we haven't had a chance to get to yet."
At Cloudland Canyon State Park in nearby Dade County, people have been asked to limit visitation to 150 vehicles in the park at one time. Cloudland Canyon stayed open while other area parks closed down due to the coronavirus, even after residents made it clear they wanted it closed.
For more information on Cloudland Canyon's limitations, visit gastateparks.org/CloudlandCanyon.
Bennett said the Chickamauga park is still working with a limited staff and trying to reduce employees' and volunteers' exposure to the coronavirus.
For visitors who are more worried than others, Chickamauga Battlefield offers several secondary roads people can walk that are wider than other trails, allowing for social distancing.
"These quiet roads off the main road are available for folks that are not wanting to be on some of the more narrow trails," he said. "We are still encouraging any visitors to keep at least a 6-foot social distance."
Joggers, Bennett said, should keep at least a 10-foot distance from someone that isn't part of their group.
Bennett said he expects people to be excited to visit some of the park's more popular trails but encouraged people to find other ones if their favorites are already crowded.
"It's going to be a nice, sunny weekend, and there may be some trail heads where the parking is full," he said. "If your favorite trailhead is already crowded, try to drive to a different part of the park."
A full list of roads and trails that will be open Friday will be posted to the park's website Friday morning.
Contact Patrick Filbin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6476. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickFilbin.