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Pamplin Park reopens as Governor’s restrictions ease

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DINWIDDIE – Pamplin Historical Park welcomed its first visitors since late March as restrictions put in place by Governor Ralph Northam to slow the spread of novel coronavirus were eased late last week as part of his “Forward Virginia” business reopening initiative.

Last Friday, Pamplin Historical Park and The National Museum of the Civil War Soldier reopened for the first time since March 25 after the Northam Administration signed several executive orders that directed nonessential businesses, along with amusement parks, recreation centers, gyms, and other facilities to close as the state geared up for a long fight against COVID-19.

The closure forced park operators to close its doors to the community and cancel nearly two dozen events. The cessation of the academic year for Virginia students, also part of Northam’s executive actions, served to cut hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue from Pamplin Park as dozens of planned field trips were canceled.

As a result of the roughly seven-week closure, 35 percent of the park’s workforce was laid off, largely made up of seasonal and part-time employees.

Entering last week, Colin Romanick, Pamplin Park’s marketing and development director, detailed the park’s efforts to keep staff and visitors safe during their time at the park and accompanying museum.

“The health and safety of visitors and staff is a first priority,” he shared. “Frequent cleaning and sanitation of high contact surfaces will be performed daily. Staff members will wear face coverings and visitors are encouraged to do so as well. Social distancing of a physical six feet will be maintained throughout the 424-acre park and building occupancy levels will be closely monitored.”

Romanick explained, while the park grounds and museum may be back open officially, it remains a partial re-opening as they remained limited in what they can offer.

“We still can’t do any groups as far as facility rentals, weddings, or larger tours,” he said. “And of course, the schools are not active at this time, so we are adhering to all the guidelines with social distancing in both the 424-acre park and the main museum. We will continue to limit groups to ten people when it comes to the capacity of any of the buildings and staggering people as we need to at any point.”

“It is an opportunity for people to be able to come out and enjoy the park and get that fitness and exercise following the cabin fever they have probably been experiencing being stuck at home while enjoying some local history,” Romanick added.

According to park officials, last week’s opening was the direct result of the first phase of Governor Northam’s “Forward Virginia” plan to reopen Virginia’s economy in a safe and methodical manner while stressing continued social distancing, limits on gathering sizes, and other efforts aimed at reducing COVID-19’s spread.

Within the first phase of what is expected to be a three-phase reopening of businesses in the Commonwealth, businesses deemed nonessential by the Northam administration are allowed to reopen at 50 percent their capacity. Restaurants are encouraged to continue takeout and delivery services but are able to utilize their outdoor seating areas at half-capacity. Indoor dining would remain prohibited.

Personal grooming businesses are able to reopen by appointment only, ending a weeks-long shutdown for area barber shops and salons. Entertainment and amusement, along with most fitness and exercise facilities will remain closed under the governor’s order during the first phase, expected to last at least two to three weeks.

Face coverings remain recommended when out in public and the ten-person limit on gatherings remains in place, according to details shared by the governor’s office.

“With Pamplin Park, having the space outside especially and people being able to take advantage of our five miles of trails, presented us with an opportunity to be able to open partially,” Romanick detailed. “As people go through the park, we have the wayside panels talking about the park’s history and now they can learn about the Breakthrough Battle, our agricultural assets at Tudor Hall, the demonstration gardening that we have started, and see our chickens and sheep so, they’ll be able to see some animals as well.”

For Romanick and Pamplin Park, last week’s partial reopening is a vital first step in getting the park fully operational again while trying to regain some of their lost revenue.

“It is a vital step because we have lost so much revenue from the shutdown, particularly the school closures and limitations on group activities so, any opportunity for us to be able to capture some revenue and provide an outlet for some pent-up energy in the community is a win and a great step in the right direction,” he said.

Along with admissions serving to support the park, donations help keep the doors to Pamplin Historical Park open through the year as the nonprofit organization receives no financial support from government entities. As such, facing hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost revenue from canceled event bookings and field trips, Romanick said they have ramped up their efforts to raise funds as, even when the park was closed, expenses continued to mount for utilities, security, and facility upkeep.

“We have our core group of donors and park membership who support us, along with the foundation but we have had a lot of outside and new donors to come forward and help. That is vital and we are very thankful to have those donors to help us get through this,” Romanick detailed.

Along with private donations, Virginia Humanities, the state’s humanities council and one of nearly 60 organizations created by the National Endowment for the Humanities to make the humanities available to all Americans, announced Pamplin Park was one of several recipients of grant funding from the organization through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act.

According to Romanick, their fundraising will remain ongoing to help offset their springtime losses.

“For us, losing those events and having to shut down our new summer camps we were going to have, in addition to the walk-in visitation was significant,” he explained, noting lingering concerns about the fall and possible restrictions on field trips for schools amid COVID-19.

“Realistically, the Centers for Disease Control guidelines for the fall is for schools to not have field trips so for us, it is not going to be until the spring of next year before we return to any sense of normalcy and that is dependent on how the virus prevention methods and guidelines from the state move forward as we progress with the situation. Looking that far out, that is still an unknown,” he said.

Romanick said he was thankful for the community’s support and remains hopeful that support will persist and grow as Pamplin Park slowly resumes operations.

“There are some surveys now saying once we come out of COVID-19, we could lose up to 30 percent of the cultural institutions across the country,” he said. “The only way they are going to stay open, many of them like us who are not government-supported, we rely on donors and visitation and that is the case for most cultural arts-related attractions, museums, and parks. You really need to support the efforts they are making because that is really going to help these institutions remain open over the next one to two years.”

The park's new operating hours will be Tuesday through Sunday with public visitation from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.