State parks are now open

Three riders take advantage of Sunday (May 3) afternoon’s great weather to exercise their horses on Lower Clear Creek Road in Norris. The mostly unpaved road, which runs between Reservoir Road and U.S. 441, was reopened to traffic Friday as Norris Dam State Park was opened fully again in the wake of the coronavirus shutdown. The riers are, from left, Phyllis Long of Dutch Valley, owner of Clinton’s Long Branch Salon; Anne Oakes of Andersonville; and Kathy Turpin of the Bethel community. (photo:G. Chambers Williams III )
Most Tennessee state parks reopened Friday (May 1) for all activities, including facilities such as campgrounds, cabins, playgrounds, picnic areas and shelters, and visitors’ centers.

That was the story at Norris Dam State Park, where Park Manager Veronica Greears said Monday that last weekend was wide open to visitors – but people were still being cautioned to observe coronavirus prevention guidelines.

Still closed as of Tuesday (May 5), however, were playgrounds and picnic shelters at the Anderson County Park on Norris Lake, said County Mayor Terry Frank. But the county parks will reopen on Monday, May 18, the county Conservation Board decided in a meeting Monday afternoon, according to Frank.

Clinton city parks, including the new inclusive playground at the South Clinton Park, remained closed, said City Manager Roger Houck.

Neither Frank nor Houck was aware on Monday that Norris Dam State Park had fully reopened the previous Friday.

“We are getting conflicting information,” Houck said Monday. “We have been trying to follow state guidelines. But our playgrounds and parks will stay closed until we get better guidance on it. We need to continue to maintain social distancing.”

“I was not aware the state parks were opening everything,” she said. “The last guidance I understood was that most everything was opening up except playgrounds and social gathering facilities.”

Some areas under control of the Tennessee Valley Authority in the area of TVA’s Norris Dam remain closed, including the dam’s west overlook, the Norris Dam Recreation Area (including Weir Dam, the gazebo fishing area, and the Clear Creek and horse trailer parking areas).

TVA said it might update its policies on these areas later this week.

At Norris Dam State Park, “We had a really great weekend,” Greears said Monday. “It wasn’t overly crowded. People were just out having a good time. But we are reminding everyone to be mindful of social distancing.”

The park had reopened for day use only the previous weekend, starting April 24, but playgrounds, campgrounds and picnic areas had remained closed. That all ended beginning this past Friday.

Park hours are now 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. for day use, and the cabins will be accepting any reservations made online from May 15 on, but also are available for immediate rental by going to the Norris Dam State Park Visitors Center or calling the park office 865-425-4500, Greears said.

“We are open, and we hope to have all seasonal operations open on the same timeline as they’ve always been,” she said. “We are asking everyone to wear masks if they are coming in contact with other people less than six feet apart. And we’re still asking people to visit their local parks.”

The state parks website had these tips for visitors (

“As we reopen our parks and facilities, we have implemented policies designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and we will monitor all aspects of the issue to ensure continued safety.

“We urge the public to help us keep our state parks open by doing their part to stay apart, by maintaining proper social distancing and practicing personal hygiene. The CDC has recommendations for those looking to visit public lands.

“We also have some specific things you need to know as you plan your visits:

“Don’t visit if you’re sick or were recently exposed to someone with COVID-19.

“Practice social distancing.

“Maintain at least six feet of separation between you and other visitors.

“Don’t travel long distances to visit state parks. Look for parks that are a short drive from your house.

“Don’t visit crowded areas.

“If parks are full, consider coming back at a different time. Consider coming earlier in the day to allow for plenty of time if an area is full and you need to adjust your plans. Tennessee State Parks may limit access to certain parks or areas if capacity is reached.

“Only park in designated areas. Please do not park along the shoulders of roads. If a parking area is full, please adjust your plans and find another area to visit.

“Follow all park rules and regulations.”