If the neighborhood parks and playgrounds are old hat by now or too crowded for safety, get in the car and drive to some of the most diverse state and national parks in the country.
Entrance stations, visitor centers, museums and other facilities may be closed, but for now, at least, the best stuff is open to the public and there is plenty of elbow room.
On Friday, Kristine Pearman, and her daughter, Taylor, COVID-19 refugees from work and Virginia Tech respectively, were at Pocahontas State Park in Chesterfield County. To the north of Richmond, Melissa McMullan and Gabriella Randhahn had unloaded Swinger and Badger from a horse trailer preparing for a ride at Lake Anna State Park.
To the west, hikers, trout fishermen and women, and others were enjoying the early spring beauty of Shenandoah National Park, a place people travel from across the country to visit that is just an easy day trip for folks in the Richmond area.
From the Blue Ridge Mountains to tidal rivers, available park activities include wilderness hiking and camping, history, boating (power, sail, kayaks and canoes), horseback riding, swimming, bird watching and hunting for early wildflowers.
Fees, which can vary by place and activity, still are in place at Virginia’s 38 state parks with 500 miles of trails and you can self-pay at entrance stations so bringing cash or check is suggested.
“The parks are open and being outdoors is a great way to get much needed fresh air and exercise. We just ask that all park visitors come for a few hours and take the proper precautions,” said Dave Neudeck, a spokesman for the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.
The U.S. National Park Service is asking visitors to follow CDC guidance to prevent the spread of infectious diseases by keeping a safe distance between yourself and other groups, washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, avoiding touching your face and staying at home if you are ill.
Elderly persons and people with medical conditions are asked to take extra precautions and follow CDC guidance for those at higher risk of a serious illness.
Neudeck, with the Virginia park system, suggested visitors, “Try and find places in the parks that are less traveled.
“We’ve got 500 miles of trail in our park system and there are great opportunities to get out there to hike or bike and jog, see nature and experience the spring season as it’s come upon us,” Neudeck said.
Pocahontas State Park offers boating, picnicking and more than 64 miles of trails. There are three lakes for fishing.
York River State Park has more than 30 miles of hiking, mountain biking and horse trails. There is a boat ramp, fresh and saltwater fishing spots, a fishing pier, playgrounds and picnic shelters.
Lake Anna State Park has a beach, a fishing pond accessible to children and the disabled, a boat launch and more than 15 miles of trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding.
Early Friday afternoon families at Lake Anna were enjoying the beach and picnic areas. The air temperature was more than 80 degrees, but the water 30 or 40 degrees cooler so the children did not get in deeper than their ankles.
A half mile away Melissa McMullan, of Fredericksburg, and Gabriella Randhahn, who lives nearby the park were saddling up McMullan’s horses. They were at the park and not working or elsewhere in large part because of the coronavirus.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen the next couple of months, so, we’re like, ‘Well let’s go ahead and start figuring out trails and stuff now,’” McMullan said.
At Pocahontas on Friday, the Pearmans, who live in Mosely, were stretching their legs. “We’ve been going to different parks each day to keep busy but also to stay away from people,” Taylor said.
She said getting outside has been wonderful especially with the recent temperate weather. On Thursday, they were at the Midlothian Mines Park in Chesterfield County and on Wednesday the James River State Park west of Richmond between Dillwyn and Amherst.
More information about Virginia state parks can be found at: www.dcr.virginia.gov/state-parks/
All 200,000 acres and another 500 miles of trails, from easy to difficult, are open at Shenandoah National Park. Skyline Drive and restrooms also are open.
Skyline Dive can be accessed at Rockfish Gap, off Interstate 64 west of Charlottesville; off U.S. 33, just west of Ruckersville on U.S. 29; or trails can be accessed from the east side of the park from the Old Rag, Whiteoak Canyon and Rose River access points all off state Route 231 west of Madison.
At the south end of Skyline Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway picks up running to North Carolina and offering its own outdoor recreational opportunities.
There are 22 national park facilities in Virginia. More information about the 22 national parks, battlefield parks and historic sites can be found at www.nps.gov/index.htm
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