CLEVELAND, Tenn. (WATE) — The Cherokee National Forest is closing all campsites, cabins, restrooms and group recreational sites in accordance with federal coronavirus guidelines

The facilities close at noon Monday and will remain closed at least until May 15, the National Forest Service said in a news release.

The closure includes the Ocoee Whitewater Center, Chilhowee Day Use, Buffalo Mtn. ATV
Trail, campgrounds, cabins, beaches, shooting ranges, picnic pavilions and restrooms.

Boat launches, most trailheads, and the general forest area, including trails and river corridors, will remain open to hiking, biking, boating, dispersed camping, hunting, fishing, and other outdoor activities.

The use of trail shelters on the Appalachian Trail is discouraged, the release said.

Please follow social distancing guidelines and “Leave No Trace” principles, the Forest Service recommended. Pack out all trash and refuse.

By closing campsites and group recreation sites, the Forest Service is taking necessary measures to safeguard the health of employees and the public, the release said.

In addition to closing camping and group recreation sites, all Cherokee National Forest offices
are operating virtually until further notice. Many employees are teleworking and are no longer doing business in person.

To protect the health and safety of employees and customers, no face-to-face meetings are being scheduled.

Customers needing information, permits and maps are encouraged to visit the website or call the nearest Cherokee National Forest office during regular business hours for assistance:

Ocoee Ranger District: 423-338-3300
Tellico Ranger District: 423-397-8455
Watauga Ranger District: 423-735-1500
Unaka Ranger District: 423-638-4109
Forest Supervisor’s Office: 423-476-9700

Individuals with paid reservations through May 15, 2020, will be contacted by email and full
refunds will automatically be processed by with no cancellation fees.

Individuals should not attempt to contact to request a refund, as that will lead to a cancellation fee being charged. Reservations made farther into the future will remain valid,
unless circumstances demand further closures.

Visitors are primarily responsible for their own safety.

Keep in mind, trails and roads may be open for use, but please recreate responsibly and follow public health guidelines regarding social distancing while you recreate in National Forests, the release said.

Law enforcement and search and rescue operations may be limited due to COVID-19 issues. High- risk activities such as rock climbing or motorized activities that increase your chance of injury or distress should be avoided, the release added.