Karen Pence urges people to return to reopening Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Karen Pence urges people to return to reopening Great Smoky Mountains National Park
© Greg Nash

Second lady Karen PenceKaren Sue PenceBiden pays his respects to John Lewis at the Capitol Trump will not visit Capitol to pay respects to civil rights icon John Lewis The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - High-ranking White House official tests positive MORE is urging visitors to return to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee as it prepares to reopen its trails this weekend. 

Pence spoke at the most-visited national park in the country along with Kate MacGregor, the deputy secretary of the Department of the Interior, on Tuesday, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported. Pence encouraged hikers to take to the trails at the park, which shut down March 25 because of the coronavirus pandemic and partially reopened earlier this month.

“There’s plenty of opportunity there to practice your social distancing. ... So, we’re saying come, come to the park,” she said.

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“We come to a place like this and we enjoy the warm sunshine on our faces or a soft mist like we do today ... the sound of the wind, the sound of the rain on the tent, the trees overhead, the soft, earthy feel of the ground underneath our feet,” Pence added, according to the newspaper. “Not only are these experiences enjoyable to have, but they are good for us too.”

The second lady said she got “emotional” speaking because she and Vice President Pence raised their kids “taking them to national parks.”

But David Lamfrom, the southeast regional director for the National Parks Conservation Association, warned that Karen Pence’s visit “downplays the risks of visiting a crowded park.”

“When people learn that the vice president’s wife visited the park, they may believe it is safe for them to visit over the long weekend. It’s not,” he said in a statement to The Hill, citing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations not to visit crowded parks and increasing coronavirus cases in North Carolina and Tennessee.

“Before planning a trip to the park, we urge you to please consider your health, family, community and the well-being of the tireless National Park Service staff,” he added, saying there is not enough personal protective equipment for staff. 

North Carolina reported its largest one-day increase in coronavirus cases on Saturday with 853 new cases. The state has confirmed 20,122 cases and 702 deaths, according to the state health department website

Tennessee’s coronavirus case count reached 18,378 on Tuesday, an increase of 367 cases the day before, according to the Tennessee Department of Health.