With New Jersey parks reopened for more than a week after coronavirus-related shutdowns, thousands of visitors have reemerged outdoors, but are encountering a messy problem.
While the parks are open, the bathrooms are closed, and one of the state’s most active environmental groups is begging Gov. Phil Murphy to reopen them.
“Our state park police reported an inordinate amount of urine and feces being left behind in parks in water bottles,” Colonel Patrick J. Callahan, superintendent of the New Jersey State Police, said at a daily briefing this week on the pandemic.
As a result, state, county, and municipal police are warning park-goers there is a "zero tolerance policy for that,” Callahan said.
“The whole idea behind the parks is to give our citizens the ability to go out and enjoy fresh air and have time outside. That report from the park police was disheartening to say the least,” he added.
Callahan said he understands that the restrooms are closed, but said people should “plan accordingly,” although he did not suggest how.
If people continue to leave waste in bottles, “that may lead us to take a different approach going forward,” Callahan said, but he did not elaborate. “We really ask that type of behavior not go on,” he said.
On Tuesday, the Sierra Club sent a letter to Catherine McCabe, commissioner of the state’s Department of Environmental Protection, asking that the bathrooms be opened and blaming officials for not slowly phasing in the parks’ reopening.
The parks were initially closed in early April and were reopened May 2 for fishing, hunting, boating, walking, hiking, and bird watching, but picnic areas, playgrounds and restrooms remained closed. Parking was also limited to 50% of capacity, with social distancing in place, and the encouragement of parkgoers to wear face masks.
“All of the parks were reopened at once, putting pressure on resources and facilities,” Tittel wrote.
Visitors have been largely keeping to social distancing practices, but some people make long drives to get to the parks and need to use the bathroom. Having thousands of hikers and park-goers simply empty their waste onto the ground, where it can get into waterways, can boost levels of dangerous bacteria in the water.
The Sierra Club is seeking at least limited hours for bathroom facilities, which are closed not only because of health concerns, but also because of the cost of keeping them open. Murphy is reporting a revenue shortfall in the billions of dollars due to business closures during the pandemic, and is asking federal officials for help.