‘So we finally got some color — and some sunshine — and it got everybody out!’
A steady stream of vehicles numbering in the thousands moved west through Rappahannock both Saturday and Sunday, then back east again — well into the night.
“Twinkling lights,” is how local resident Kathy McNitt described it from 3,000 feet below, referring to the caravan of cars on Skyline Drive at twilight.
“It was the perfect storm,” Shenandoah National Park spokesperson Sally Hurlbert told the Rappahannock News. “October is our busiest month, with two to three times the visitors compared to the rest of the year. But we’ve had so many rainy weekends — literally, this was our first sunny weekend, and the first weekend where we’ve had any color.
“The color was delayed delayed this year. So we finally got some color — and some sunshine — and it got everybody out!”
How many sun-deprived, leaf-peepers were there?
“Maybe we broke some records,” Hurlbert said, explaining that official visitor statistics have yet to be compared to past years. But get a load of these figures: On Saturday, 2,856 vehicles carrying 7,324 people passed through the Thornton Gap Entrance Station. And on Sunday, 2,604 vehicles arrived with 7,062 passengers.
Grand total: 5,460 vehicles and 14,386 passengers. The majority of them, no doubt, entering the park after driving through Rappahannock County.
Another 18,000 people, traveling in just under 6,000 vehicles, entered the park’s Front Royal entrance station over the weekend, one of the park’s four entrance locations. Thornton Gap and Front Royal are the busiest of the entrance stations.
All told, 17,431 vehicles entered the entire park on Saturday and Sunday, carrying 47,748 people.
“We were definitely staffed up, way more than normal,” stressed Hurlbert, “helping to move people through as quickly as we could.”