The National Park Service has closed 27 miles of the Appalachian Trail in Virginia to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus at the center of a worldwide outbreak that has sickened more than a million people and killed more than 65,000.
The trail closure, announced Sunday, includes all NPS-owned land between Virginia 624 or Newport Road and Virginia 652, known as Mountain Pass Road, according to an NPS news release. The closure includes McAfee Knob and Tinker Cliffs.
The U.S. Forest Service had previously closed access to Dragon’s Tooth.
At a time when more people are turning to outdoor recreation as a way to limit the spread of COVID-19 — and to find some relief in a world where public life is shutting down — Appalachian Trail Conservancy President and CEO Sandra Marra warned last week that the AT is no longer a refuge.
Popular areas such as McAfee Knob have seen record visitation in recent weeks, leading to jammed trailhead parking lots, shelters full of overnight hikers and heavy use of picnic tables and privies.
“Hiking the AT has become, in other words, the opposite of social distancing,” Marra wrote on the conservancy’s website.
More than 50 people have died from COVID-19 in Virginia and more than 2,600 cases have been confirmed, according to the Virginia Department of Health.
Late last month, the NPS closed all privies and overnight shelters along the trail in Virginia and in several other states, and the forest service closed many of its trailheads and recreation areas, including the Pandapas Pond day use area in Montgomery County.
This week the ATC and 29 out of 31 Appalachian Trail Maintaining Clubs that build and maintain the footpath formally requested a federal closure of the entire 2,200-mile trail that stretches from Maine to Georgia.
“The unprecedented request from the ATC and clubs comes on the heels of a surge in visitor use despite multiple social-distancing guidance issued by state and local governments,” according to a conservancy news release.
The trail spans 14 states and is within a day’s drive for half of the U.S. population, according to the conservancy.
“Crowding at iconic and well-known A.T. locations — such as Blood Mountain in Georgia, McAfee Knob in Virginia, and Annapolis Rocks in Maryland — became unsafe as many believed they could avoid COVID-19 by journeying to public lands,” the release stated.