CLOSURES AND AN EXPLANATION TO WHY THE FOREST IS CLOSED FOR CITY FOLKS WHO MIGHT NOT FULLY UNDERSTAND IT
(remember we are city folks too)
As everyone knows small businesses are suffering and businesses that depend on tourism are being demolished. For example, our small business has refunded all but 25% of our trips for the Spring. Some guests were kind and decided to have us keep money from their cancelled bookings. Those bookings were then turned into gift cards that will not expire until the end of 2021. Our bookings typically ramp up in the Spring filling up our summer calendar but bookings are down 100%. Finally, while we are an adventure company that operates year-round, we have a 3-month peak season that brings in 90% of our revenue: May-August. These three months will likely not happen for us in 2020. Let me explain why, keeping in mind this is a situation changing daily.
The below information shows great examples of why the park service has made the hard decisions they have. We are not advocating for or against the closures just offering some insight into the decisions made as well as how it will affect NCOA and other small businesses like us this season.
Pisgah National Forest has decided to close for 120 days. That means very limited to NO ACCESS to our commonly used areas for our rock climbing, rappelling and plant hike trips. Several areas of the Blue Ridge Parkway are also closed. Folks who go anyway can receive fines up to $5,000 and are currently being ticketed as areas are being patrolled. I have attached info on the closures to the bottom of this blog. It is important to remember that this order can be rescinded at any time. Those decisions are made based on the governor’s order, the information that comes down through the CDC and other government authorities. I know A LOT of people are angry with the decision to close the forest until August but let me share a couple examples that clearly illustrate why:
(1) The forest is located in VERY rural areas. These rural areas already have limited resources including hospitals, fire departments and first responders. I am from the Charlotte area and this has taken time for me to understand completely but let me illustrate this for you as an outsider from “off the mountain” with two examples:
My first example: Scott had his appendix rupture last year. We went to Blue Ridge Hospital, a rural hospital in Spruce Pine on a weekend around 7pm. We were taken in quickly; he received a scan and we had a diagnosis within an hour of entering the ER. Our care was great and prompt……but this is where small and rural come in. We were told his appendix was about to rupture and they would quickly administer pain meds and antibiotics BUT unfortunately no surgeons were available (the hospital does not have surgeons on weekends) AND we need to transport you to Asheville but do not have an ambulance right now (we have 3 ambulances for the entire Mitchell County area). We waited for an ambulance to come from over 50 miles away to pick him up and transport him back to Mission in the city. Scott’s surgery did not take place until 4AM the next morning…..9 hours after entering the ER in Spruce Pine. This is the picture of a rural hospital!!!!!! Bottom line if you need critical healthcare needs met you will more than likely be sent to a city for treatment.
My second example comes from our volunteer work with local Fire Departments as a Fire Fighter, Mountain Search and Rescue, Swift Water and High Angle Rescue Technicians. In the city if you call for fire, medical or police, you are likely to see them arrive with-in 5-15 minutes depending on your proximity to downtown or uptown areas. In rural places like WNC response times take much longer. Why? Of course things are more spread out but we have less resources due to less funding and less first responders. Please keep in mind here that 98% of folks who do respond are volunteer and hold several other jobs to make a living in rural areas. This doesn’t change for us in WNC when tourism season hits, imagine the stretch that puts on our resources!
Now imagine those resources during COVID, add in folks who want to escape the city to come to our beautiful mountains for recreation. Now imagine you get hurt and need to be rescued. Some volunteers feel like if you went in while it was closed you are own your own because you broke the law but I can tell you while they might feel that…..they would never abandon you; so in they come to get you with little resources…..and remember they are volunteer so no pay exposing themselves and in return their family while rescuing a stranger.
(2) Social Distancing
I am right there with ya! I too was saying what better place to social distance than an open forest. After a conference call with the park service I see things differently. While you can adequately social distance under normal conditions in a forest let us explore an emergency situation. Say you are rock climbing, something happens and first aid is needed…..you are no longer social distancing. This is the same for a hiking accident, kayaking, biking accident etc. Now picture the strain on those resources mentioned above! Yes this sucks! Yes the forest is my healing place for my spiritual and mental wellbeing. Yet at this time it is not about me…it is about everyone! Specifically, it is about those who are old, those who have underlying illness or compromised immune systems. It is great that we are well and healthy but we must think of more than ourselves even if it means we suffer a bit in the interim.
NC Outdoor Adventures will remain closed through May 15th when we will once again reevaluate the information put forth by the Park Service, CDC and government. The updates to our trips are tentative and subject to change based on the information we receive. As of today, 4/18/20 the updates below will be through 8/1/20.
For those who have booked Spider Lily Trips we are still evaluating that situation. We have been in contact with Landsford Canal State Park and on paper they are set to reopen the Park 4/30. That is likely to change. We will not be offering shuttle services this year at the lilies and are reviewing our policies to see how and if we can adequately social distance and sanitize gear as the safety of our guests is priority! The lily blooms are on schedule even with our early spring. We understand that the decision to cancel trips are based on personal decisions and well-being; that said we ask that if you do decide to cancel your reservation please consider accepting a gift card that will not expire until the end of 2021 in place of a refund.
Our Tiny House Rental, the Root Cellar Tiny will also remain closed until 5/15. We will update this as Mitchell County updates their short-term lodging COVID restrictions. We are taking reservations for rentals for any time after the date above. Those interested should call (828) 260-4505, make sure to leave a message as we currently have no staff answering calls. We are checking voicemails and returning all calls and emails daily.
A quick note on our climbing and rappelling trips. We are looking into other areas for climbing options that are not closed. This includes working with private land owners.
We plan to do plant hike trips at our farm or on private properties in our area. We are working on this policy. It will include social distancing, mask usage and no shuttle. We have not decided if the dinners after the hike will be an option. You can also see our plant hikes virtually on our NC Outdoor Facebook Page, we have two on the page currently.
Lastly an update for water sports: whitewater, flatwater and tubing. We are considering the option to offer boat and tube rentals. We are not sure what this would look like at this time. We are developing a policy that will include new sanitation guidelines for gear, rental fees and a lease waiver that protects our gear and eliminates liability for our company once gear is rented.
My next blog will be on look-a-like snakes followed by what we have to be grateful for during these times.
Other ways to support NCOA includes the following:
- Nominate us for a unique attraction for Only In Your State Magazine: https://www.onlyinyourstate.com/nominate/?fbclid=IwAR3ZpbWSx2FliRrvaAhE8lORD3vgS9R4XFI-ekP6YiJNI-ycHG1N5CBXU20
- Purchase Gift Cards on our website: https://ncoutdooradventures.org/
- Like, follow and invite others to our social media pages!
- Support our GoFundMe (although we would rather you purchase a gift card so we can see your pretty faces!): https://www.gofundme.com/f/small-businesses-are-suffering
WHAT'S CLOSED, WHAT'S NOT - April 10 (plus April 13 and April 15 clarifications)
Attention: Please discuss closings in comments on this post. New posts on the topic will be removed so that it doesn't hijack the group.
UPDATE: A written USFS order released April 13 clarifies forest road and dispersed camping closures. (see below)
UPDATE: Campfire ban lifted on April 13 by NCFS, but not yet by USFS.
UPDATE: On April 15 NPS closed their access to Linville Falls (and many other Parkway roads).
In response to emergency/health management concerns from Burke County, some official trails in/around the Gorge are closed starting today. Unusually, the trailhead parking areas are also closed. So no hiking or parking at:
- Wolf Pit / Shortoff Trail
- Table Rock Summit Trail
- Table Rock Gap
- Little Table Rock
- Spence Ridge
- Upper Creek Falls
- Linville Falls (both USFS and NPS access)
Gorge-area seasonal forest roads remain gated. Additionally and unusually, they are closed to hiking and biking as well as motorized use.
- FR 99 (paved road up to Table Rock)
- FR 496 ("middle road" from NC181 to Table Rock)
- FR 228 (Steels Creek access)
Still open for hiking in the Gorge and greater area National Forest:
- All other official trails
- All unofficial trails
- All ungated Forest Service roads
- All crosscountry (untrailed) travel
Important camping-related restrictions:
- Camping is prohibited in Linville Gorge and surrounding National Forest (by both USFS and Burke and McDowell Counties)
- NCFS has lifted their campfire ban but USFS has not yet lifted the federal ban, pending another good rain.
Note re: Linville Falls:
- Linville Falls can be accessed from both USFS (Old 105) and NPS (Blue Ridge Parkway). USFS has closed trail and parking. NPS has closed BRP spur road to the Falls but not the Falls trail itself.
- Burke & McDowell SOE restrict climbing, swiftwater boating.
- Bathrooms at Table Rock, Wiseman's View, Info Cabin closed and not being cleaned.
- The Info Cabin itself remains closed, and depending on how you read the closure order the parking area may also be closed.
- Developed campgrounds like Mortimer are closed.
- Brown Mountain OHV Area is closed.
- Wilson Creek Day Use Area is closed.
- Vacation rentals and other lodging may be unavailable in Burke & McDowell.
- Trail volunteer activity is suspended.
- NC "Stay-at-Home" order
- Burke County State of Emergency
- McDowell County State of Emergency
- National Forests of NC website
This post compiles official closure announcements but is not itself an official announcement. For definitive guidance call the Grandfather Ranger District at (828) 652-2144