Republicans Ask Murphy to Reconsider Closure of State and County Parks
Several Republican lawmakers and a candidate for governor are pushing back on Gov. Phil Murphy's executive order on Tuesday closing all state and county parks.
"We have seen far too many instances where people are gathering in groups in our parks, erroneously thinking since they're outside, social distancing doesn't matter. Nothing could be further from the truth," Murphy said Tuesday. "We understand that staying at home is hard — we get that — and that you need to get some fresh air. But you must do this close to home. Take a walk or bike ride in your neighborhood, or at a park in your town that is open."
Murphy did not offer any specific examples of people not keeping their distance at parks, which is what led Assemblyman Jay Webber, R- Morris, to post an online petition asking the governor to reconsider. As of noon on Wednesday, there were nearly 4,000 signatures.
"The governor gave no real reason other than some anecdotal evidence or some people suggested to the governor there were some crowds forming somewhere," Webber told the Townsquare News Network on Wednesday. "I don't think people are willing to give up such an important part of their lives being outside in fresh air in open spaces, especially in the springtime."
Webber said he heard about the closures from his constituents in the 26th Legislative District before receiving notification from Murphy's office.
"Folks are very concerned about being able to get outside, stretch their legs, get some fresh air, recreate with their kids. I think allowing that outlet for people will help us do all the other social distancing measures that the governor wants us to do and have been important," Webber said.
Webber said a decision that imposes a "major imposition on people" needs to be made based on science and data not anecdotes.
"This calls for a much more nuanced position where parks that are not being overused at certain times of the day should be available to people. Maybe certain parts of parks should be shut down but parts of parks shouldn't. There needs to be a well thought out policy before you restrict the liberties of 9 million New Jersaynans to not visit the hundreds of thousands of acres of state parks and our state forests," Weber said.
During his Wednesday news briefing, Murphy said he had heard about the petition.
"We have to tighten the ship up and I feel badly saying that. I don't envision going back on that in the near term until we're through this," Murphy said. "Is that something we may reconsider? Perhaps. But the overwhelming square footage, square miles are in the county and state systems and that's where we saw issues."
The order does not affect municipal parks but many communities followed suit, including Edison, Franklin in Somerset County, Montgomery and South Brunswick.
State Sen. Christopher "Kip" Bateman, R-Somerset, said he supports reopening the parks.
“In this time of uncertainty, we should encourage folks to go outside and explore their local park while practicing safe social distancing," Bateman said Wednesday. "With fresh air and exercise being so important to our physical health, mental health, and overall well-being, I am calling for our parks to be reopened as soon as possible."
Republican gubernatorial candidate Jack Ciattarelli said parks are important for maintaining mental health.
"For many people, our state and county parks are critically important outlets especially in our urban and high-density areas. Is there no way for people to enjoy passive recreation while steadfastly observing safe social distancing? Must we punish those who are perfectly compliant with the rules?" Ciattarelli said in a video posted on his campaign site.
Sussex County Freeholder Dawn Fantasia shared a letter signed by all her colleagues acknowledging that social distancing requires "sacrifice and discipline" but arguing that the order will have the unintended consequence of forcing people from open spaces to smaller residential areas.
State GOP chairman Doug Steinhardt in response to a news story about the closure on Twitter said, "Even in a crisis there must be checks & balances & govt can’t operate unrestrained. I encourage @GovMurphy to reconsider his park closures & appeal to the #NJ legislature to convene."