Most Tennessee state parks reopened Friday (April 24) for day use only, including Norris Dam State Park, but their overnight facilities remained closed for the foreseeable future, state park officials said.
“We are encouraging visitors to maintain at least six feet of distance between themselves and other visitors; to visit parks that are only a short distance from their homes; and to consider visiting earlier in the day so they can adjust plans if a park is full,” said Kim Schofinski, deputy communications director for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
“Park managers will have a plan in place to close areas or limit visitation for public safety, including trails and other high-use areas,” she added.
Norris Dam Park Manager Veronica Greear said Friday afternoon that trails are open, and people are being asked to maintain social distancing precautions while in the park and on the trails.
Among the first hikers out in the park on Friday morning was Mike Robinson of Norris, who was walking his dogs Andie and Buster on the park’s east side near the campground. He said that until the parks closed a month ago, he would walk there with the dogs as often as possible.
“When I can, I come up every day,” he said. “I’ve been doing the 84-mile challenge, but now I have a one-month void for the time everything was shut down. But it didn’t seem much sense for them to close the trails.”
Although hiking is back on, still closed are cabins, campgrounds, picnic areas, playgrounds and the park’s Visitors Center, which is on the park’s west side. Park hours are 7 a.m. until sunset, which Greears said is now 8:15 p.m.
The Tennessee Valley Authority, though, had yet to reopen many of its visitor facilities, including the Norris Dam West Overlook off U.S. 441, and parking for trail access on several areas along the Clinch River below Norris Dam.
The state park system has no control over TVA facilities, including the Norris Dam Visitors Center on the east side of the dam, Greears said. TVA is the federal public utility that built and maintains a series of dams along the Tennessee River and its tributaries. Those include Norris Dam.
Also still closed Tuesday morning was the unpaved section of Lower Clear Creek Road from just off Reservoir Road in Norris to U.S. 441 (Norris Freeway). While this road falls mostly within the Norris Municipal Watershed, which has remained open, Greears said she asked the city of Norris to close the road to deter people from parking and congregating near the Grist Mill, which is part of the state park and remains closed to visitors.
Norris City Manager Scott Hackler said earlier that Lower Clear Creek Road is part of the Anderson County highway system, and that he had gotten the county’s permission to close it after the Norris Dam State Park manager asked the city to close it. There have been complaints, however, from motorists who use the road as a regular cut-through to go to and from the Norris/Andersonville areas and the Norris Dam area and Rocky Top.
Anderson County Park on Norris Lake was also reopened to the public on Friday, but the campground remains closed. The boat launch ramp has reopened, however.
In fact, all of the boat ramps in Anderson County parks were reopened for use by the public, effective Friday, April 24, according to an announcement from the Anderson County Conservation Board.
“However, while the boat ramps are now open, campgrounds and playgrounds within the county parks are still closed due to the coronavirus, COVID-19,” the announcement said. “The seven parks or boat ramps maintained by Anderson County are under the leadership of the county’s Conservation Board. Operations currently are aligning with guidelines for the state’s park system.”
In the state parks and along Norris Lake, marinas and boat ramps have reopened. But most campgrounds, playgrounds and picnic areas remain closed.
Greears said the Norris Dam State Park restrooms also are closed, except for the ones at Picnic Shelter No. Two on the east side of the park.
As for when the cabins might reopen, Greears said the state parks system is working up new cleaning protocols that must be put in place before they can begin renting out the cabins again. No timetable was given for that.
For more information on county parks, call the Anderson County Park office at 865-494-9352.
Private marinas along Norris Lake have also reopened any boat-launch ramps that had been closed, such as the one at Norris Dam Marina.
At the privately run Starburst Marina on the west side of the lake near Andersonville, Assistant Manager Serena Satterfield said Friday that the boat launch is open to non-members for a launch fee of $25, and the marina’s restaurant is set to reopen for the season on Saturday (May 2).
The marina has condominiums and long-term camping spaces that house more than 100 people year-round, she said, and more than 500 boats and floating homes are docked at the marina.
Business has been a bit slow, but not drastically so, she said.
Other marinas in the area that are open and conducting normal business operations include Sequoia, near Norris; Waterside, just east of Andersonville; and Mountain Lake, near Rocky Top. All were seeing some boat-launching activity on Friday, mostly by members (Waterside allows only members to launch).