Hiking boots, check. Trail map, check. Mask, check.
A mask mandate is in effect across the National Park System, including the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Blue Ridge Parkway. So, next time you’re headed out to a trail at a busy location, be sure to pack a face covering for your mouth and nose.
While it’s become a natural expectation to be required to wear a mask when entering buildings, the key is that they are now also required on National Park Service land where distancing isn’t possible outside, like on busy trails, overlooks and parking lots.
“In the Smokies, masks are required inside our visitor centers, cabins, churches, restrooms and administrative buildings,” shared Dana Soehn, GSMNP management assistant/public affairs. “Masks are also required at busy outdoor places when physical distancing cannot be maintained.”
The agency’s announcement follows President Joe Biden’s executive order on mask mandates, requiring them in federal buildings, on federal land and at airports and on public transportation. Prior to the new mandate, under the leadership of President Donald Trump, masks were encouraged inside federal buildings but were not required.
All of the visitors centers within the Smokies are currently open. There are plenty of opportunities to explore the great outdoors in the national park.
“With 384 miles of roadways and more than 800 miles of trails, the park has ample options for visitors to spread out and enjoy opportunities to safely and responsibly recreate,” Soehn said. “By using a mask while passing hikers along a trail or when standing at a busy location within six feet of others, visitors will be in compliance with the mask requirement.”
Local residents have surely noticed the plethora of out-of-state license plates and the growing appeal of the Smokies during the ongoing pandemic. Soehn notes that on most trails, people will be wearing masks at the entrances, when they pass others on the trails and areas where social distancing isn’t possible.
The park service is now making it a priority to educate all the visitors about the current requirements and how to safely explore the park.
“We're working on installing signage and providing information on our website and social media sites to help spread the word,” Soehn said. “Park rangers are on duty to uphold normal rules and regulations, as well as this requirement, and may issue citations as appropriate for anyone in violation.”