The Shenendoah National Park may have its black bears to contend with, but parks in Northern Virginia have a much more serious problem with a whole different animal--raccoons.
The reason is rabies: An increase in the number of rabid raccoons found in Northern Virginia since last year has worried Northern Virginia park wardens. They say their presence poses a real threat, particularly to those among the 9,000 annual out-of-state visitors to the area's three campsites.
"People around here pretty much know about the rabies outbreak," said Earl Hodnett, a naturalist for the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority. "But someone traveling through may not know enough to leave raccoons alone or keep their pets in at night."
Hodnett said the park authority is posting 22-by-17-inch signs at area parks notifying visitors of the rabies outbreak and warning them not to feed or touch wild animals.
There are 14 parks in Northern Virginia, and three have campsites--Bull Run Park off I-66, Pohick Bay Park off Rte. 95 and Fountainhead Park off Hampton Road, all in Fairfax County.
Hodnett said all campers will be given a brochure about the rabies outbreak, urging that pets be vaccinated and be kept inside tents or trailors at night. He said the brochure asks campers to report any animal they see acting suspiciously.
Hodnett has been holding seminars on rabies for park rangers and is having local animal control officials teach them how to capture wild animals.
"I understand there are 68 raccoons per every square kilometer in our parks," Hodnett said. "We've got raccoons walking all over each other and into the campsites to get at food. We will just have to be extra careful."