Shenandoah National Park’s pilot program for Old Rag Mountain ended today, meaning that for the rest of the year, visitors won’t need to secure a day-use ticket to access the ever-popular route.
Earlier this year, Shenandoah, along with many other national parks, implemented pilot programs to help control the number of people at highly-trafficked attractions. With the recent pandemic pushing more folks outdoors, many national park officials witnessed the advanced wear and tear that the new numbers caused the natural attractions.
For Shenandoah, one of the most fragile and popular routes is Old Rag Mountain Loop, a 9.4-mile route that takes a little more than 5 hours to complete. On this challenging route, hikers experience upwards of 2,500 feet of elevation change, but the views at the end are well worth the effort. Known as the “brutally awesome” route on AllTrails, the trail is full of switchbacks, scrambling and tons of incline.
“This pilot project is intended to improve the visitor experience and address public safety concerns, while also better protecting the rare ecological communities found on Old Rag,” the park shared on its website.
Shenandoah National Park first implemented the program starting March 1, just before peak season began. During this time, visitors paid $1 to secure the proper day-use ticket and presented them at the Old Rag station before embarking on the scenic trail. Shenandoah allotted a total of 800 visitors to the mountain per day.
This limitation also supported a “high quality” visitor experience, preventing crowding at the trailhead, rest spots and overlooks. Hikers on the Saddle, Ridge and Ridge Access trails all needed to acquire a ticket as well.
Shenandoah National Park Now Reviewing 2022 Data
Now that the pilot program is complete, Shenandoah National Park will begin the next crucial part of the process.
“During the pilot, park staff gathered data which they will evaluate over the next few months. The park will share the data and seek input from the public in early 2023,” the park shared in its release. “The information collected will help park staff decide if the ticketing system should be continued permanently or if the program needs to be modified.”
It is unknown yet if the park will open a forum for public comment on the Old Rag day-use tickets. In the meantime, Park Superintendent Patrick Kenney expressed his gratitude for both Shenandoah staff and visitors during the program.
“We appreciate everyone’s cooperation while we tested a means to ensure a high-quality visitor experience and protect park resources at Old Rag,” said Kenney. “The information gathered during the pilot will help inform the decision-making process.”