Sandy deals trouble left and right

An overlook at Hanging Rock State Park offers a serene winter experience after a snowfall.

Perhaps for the first time ever, state parks were closed this week in eastern North Carolina for hurricane winds and rain and in the mountains for snowfall. It was an odd situation, but Hurricane Sandy did no serious damage to state parks and all are reopening quickly.

Some visitors may wonder how decisions are made to close parks, and why they sometimes close for days at a time when a storm passes quickly. Our top priority is the safety of visitors, of course. Even a relatively minor storm can bring down trees and suddenly swell waterways. A hurricane, tropical storm, ice storm or heavy snowfall multiplies those risks. Bear in mind that those state parks with campgrounds have a more difficult chore during nasty weather. It takes more time to shut down. Campers must be accounted for and evacuated, and there may be visitors en route to a campground who’ve made a reservation weeks or months earlier. We make every effort to contact them personally to let them know a park is closed — or might close on short notice.

After a storm passes, park superintendents and rangers are usually itching to get their park open again — it’s just human nature to want everything back to normal right away. But facilities such as piers, boardwalks and remote public buildings have to be closely inspected for damage and more critically, all the trails have to be walked with a keen eye for hanging limbs or even entire trees that might yet come down — unaffectionately known as “widowmakers”.

There’s something else that most folks don’t know. When North Carolina faces a severe storm, state park rangers and maintenance crewmen, their skills and all their equipment become critical assets in the government’s response. Boats, chainsaws and four-wheel-drive vehicles may be needed many miles away. A park  minimally affected may have to remain closed a couple extra days while its staff is helping storm victims elsewhere. As law enforcement officers, rangers have been called on in recent years to help local police in stricken areas.

If you’re a regular park visitor, you absolutely should be tuned into us on Twitter. Park and facility closings are posted there immediately. More detailed info is posted on our website. There is usually a general “alert” posted on all website pages; and even more detailed info is often posted on a specific park’s webpage within the site. Also, we’re improving our ability to send “push notifications” to smartphones that carry our mobile app so that visitors get word of sudden weather emergencies even when they’re out on a trail. A combination of new technology and old fashion patience works here. We truly want our visitors to experience the grandeur of the parks in all seasons.

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