New Jersey’s state and county parks are closing amid the coronavirus outbreak, a decision that Gov. Phil Murphy said was the result of too many people not practicing social distancing outdoors.
“I don’t do this lightly and I don’t do it with any joy,” Murphy said Tuesday. “We are seeing far too many instances of people gathering in groups in our parks, erroneously thinking that since they’re outside social distancing doesn’t matter. Nothing could be further from the truth."
While decisions on whether to close municipal parks will be made by individual municipalities, Murphy urged all New Jerseyans to enjoy the outdoors closer to home, perhaps by taking a walk, bike ride, or run in their own neighborhood instead of flocking to a more-popular public area. And, the governor told residents: If a nearby town’s parks remain open while yours are closed, please do not drive to parks in that other town.
“There’s going to be plenty of summer and sunshine to come,” he said, “and the sooner we can flatten that curve and come down the other side of that curve, the faster we can all enjoy it.”
The decision, which also affects New Jersey’s state forests, comes as parks in New Jersey and Pennsylvania see an uptick in visitors due to the coronavirus shutdown. Social distancing recommendations do allow for outdoor activity, but only if it is solitary or with members of the same household.
At popular spots, such as Philadelphia’s Wissahickon Valley Park and the New Jersey Pinelands, officials and park-goers have noted larger-than-usual crowds that are not staying the recommended six feet apart. At the Batsto Village in Wharton State Forest in Burlington County, cars were seen parked bumper to bumper over the weekend.
Pennsylvania state trails, lakes, roads, and parking remain open “for passive and dispersed recreation," but facilities such as bathrooms and campgrounds are closed at least through April 30.
However, some parks have taken matters into their own hands.
Valley Forge National Historical Park and Haverford College’s Nature Trail closed last month due to crowds. At Valley Forge, some visitors had even defecated on the property because bathrooms were closed, park officials said.
Philadelphia hasn’t shut off access to its parks, but has closed playgrounds, tennis courts, basketball courts, and other recreation areas.
Before the governor’s executive order was signed Tuesday, New Jersey’s parks had already closed facilities such as bathrooms. Beginning at 8 p.m. Tuesday, visitors will not be able to access the parks and trails at all.
The New Jersey Sierra Club lauded the decision, noting the New Jersey State Police will patrol the areas to ensure compliance.
"Closing the state parks and forests in New Jersey is a critical step to keep everyone safe and healthy,” Jeff Tittel, the director of the state’s Sierra Club, said in a statement.
He said he hoped that in a few months, New Jerseyans will be able to enjoy their parks again.