For two years in a row, the most popular time of the year for Shenandoah National Park was adversely affected by the weather: An October snow storm in 2011 and Superstorm Sandy this year. The week that Sandy visited, the park completely closed during what is normally an orderly sequence of park facilities closings that occur every November.
Skyland resort had already been scheduled to close on Dec. 2, and, after an emergency resort evacuation and park closure in anticipation of Sandy, Skyland has since reopened for business. So it may not be too late to catch one more November Skyline Drive getaway trip before everything at Shenandoah is buttoned down for winter.
Sandy had dropped more than a foot of heavy, wet snow on the park and taken out power to the park’s lodges.
“When Sandy was coming through, we're really were prepared for the worst. And Shenandoah National Park has had a little bit of a rough patch for weather this year. We were impacted by the Durecho earlier this year, and we lost power to both Skyland Resort and Big Meadows Lodge while people were staying there,” says Lauren Pearce, a spokesperson for Riester, Inc. Her company is located in Phoenix, Arizona and provides marketing support for Aramark, Inc. Aramark is the company that operates visitor services, concessions and other facilities at Shenandoah National Park.
After the storm passed, the power restored and the Skyline Drive roadway cleared, the National Park Service and Aramark employees went to work and got everything re-opened. Things are mostly back to normal now, except the horseback tours that normally ride out from Skyland Resort.
For visitors to Shenandoah National Park, the re-opening period offers a reprieve for a final chance this year to enjoy a relatively quieter park experience. Uniquely seasonal forms of spectacular vistas are also possible now, thanks to air that is clear of summer haze and trees whose covering foliage is on the ground.
“We were prepared for the worst here in Shenandoah, and are very relieved that, aside from an early snow that turned Shenandoah into a beautiful winter wonderland, the park emerged virtually unscathed,” said Wayne Soard, district manager for Aramark Shenandoah National Park Lodging in a statement. “Our hearts go out to those who were impacted by this tragic storm.”
Pearce assures that Aramark had never taken any chances during Sandy when it came to the safety of Skyland Resort visitors and staff. The moment that the Park Service made the decision to close the storm in response to the approaching storm, the word went out to guests and evacuation plans were immediately implemented.
After the storm passed, Park Service and Aramark employees headed back into the park to survey the damage. And they were very relieved to find that, along with a foot of snow, relatively flew trees had fallen along the Drive. The park appeared to have come through it all without any lasting damage.
Guests who had been affected by the evacuation were given the option to reschedule their visit or get a refund.
Pearce notes that Skyland usually closes right after Thanksgiving, as campgrounds, other facilities, waysides and even Skyline Drive itself are also in the process of being shut down. Skyland and its nearby restaurant are the last lodge to close for the season on Dec. 2.
A sort of “last hurrah” Thanksgiving weekend schedule of activities is set for Nov. 24, from 11 a.m to 11 p.m. at Skyland, offering a variety of live bluegrass and old-time music, holiday craft workshops, cooking demonstrations and a smorgasbord. A final, end-of-season celebration will take place on Dec. 1, from 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., featuring food, entertainment, holiday cooking demos, holiday craft workshops and a drawing every hour from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Shenandoah National Park has an entrance fee of $15. Some of the special activities require an admission fee. Call Skyland for reservations at 888-896-3833
Along with the end-of-season scenery and outdoor quietude that can accompany a November visit to Skyland, there are also some caveats to planning a visit to anywhere in the park at this time of year. Many facilities and shelter areas are already closed. It may always pay to call ahead or visit NPS.gov/SHEN to check prevailing weather conditions. Outdoor conditions can always be a lot different at higher elevations -- often where weather can be more severe and locally unpredictable. Still, even after Skyland closes, it's always possible to enjoy the park after in its winter dormancy.
“You can hike in, so that's something that those people who really do want a peaceful hiking experience can find in winter,” Pearce says. “But, other than that, you're not going to find much in terms of lodging or dining or even interpretive services in winter.”
For more information about the Skyland resort, visit www.visitshenandoah.com or call 1-888-896-3833. Aramark facilities operated in Shenandoah National Park are also seen on Facebook.
Photos courtesy Aramark, Inc. Story copyright ©2012 by Shenandoah Valley Productions LLC.