West Virginia Reopens Some Dining, Outdoor Recreation Ahead of Memorial Day

Dining at restaurants, renting boats and whitewater rafting trips are allowed in West Virginia starting Thursday, but businesses must follow social distancing guidelines

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Memorial Day might not feel like the unofficial start to summer this year, but the list of activities that West Virginia will start to allow leading up to the holiday weekend reads like a warm-weather bucket list.

Indoor restaurant dining, guided whitewater rafting trips, ziplining and renting kayaks or ATVs are among recreational activities that are back on the table. State park campgrounds will reopen just to residents.

The state is also set to end a requirement that out-of-state visitors quarantine themselves for two weeks.

"This reopening is almost as exciting as Christmas Day," said Jennifer Maghan-Bircher, who co-owns Black Dog Coffee Company, a shop and roastery centered in Shenandoah Junction, West Virginia. "It's that exciting."

She has big plans for the coming days: Bringing back some tables, installing an antique roaster, inviting musicians to play and returning to regular hours.

"In some ways, it's great. Because goodness we need the revenue," said Maghan-Bircher. "In other ways, I know it makes some of our population nervous."

Anyone who has felt cooped up by coronavirus restrictions might be drawn to West Virginia as the state moves into its Week 4 reopening plan, which allows for outdoor activities as long as businesses comply with social distancing rules that will help protect patrons from coronavirus.

Some in the adventuring businesses are also ready to take advantage of the changes.

Harpers Ferry Adventure Center usually starts its season in late March but had to delay. Bookings are far below what they were in the past, General Manager Kim Yos said in an email.

The center will just begin to get its toes wet during Memorial Day weekend, phasing in just flatwater tubing trips with new rules to promote social distancing. 

"We have always regarded our guest and staff health and safety as the top priority of our business but we are kicking it up a notch with social distancing in place," Yos said.

Customers must book ahead and guests and staff are required to wear masks. Signs will be posted to remind people to follow safety rules, Yos said.

Harpers Ferry Adventure Center hopes to bring back its whitewater rafting, zipline tours and more by May 29, when it can also operate in neighboring Virginia.

Another adventure resort, River Riders, says it's fully relaunching on Thursday while following federal and state guidelines and implementing social distancing rules.

But it's unclear how many people will feel comfortable traveling or going out for unnecessary purposes. West Virginia has nearly 1,600 confirmed coronavirus diagnoses. Tourist-friendly Berkely and Jefferson counties, each an easy drive from the Washingon, D.C., area are two of the hardest-hit in the state.

Anyone who does venture out will find some businesses opting to be more conservative.

Kendra Goldsborough, owner of Four Seasons Books in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, said low testing numbers in the state have made her wary of throwing her doors open. 

"I feel that if we began to reopen our stores, because we are a tourist-based town, people will come. They will congregate," she said.

Goldsborough said that many fellow business owners in Shepherdstown agree and are also doing a limited reopening.

Four Seasons Books will continue to offer curbside pick up and free delivery, and eventually plans to allow customers to reserve a time to shop solo.

Goldsborough said she's being cautious to protect her core customers, who have formed a "wonderful supportive community" around Four Seasons Books.

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