Want NJ to Open More? Don’t Crowd Reopened Parks Saturday, Murphy Says
New Jersey's state and county parks and golf courses are opening this weekend for the first time in nearly month. Whether they stay open is up to you, Gov. Phil Murphy said Friday.
With a hint of admonition for the crowds he said swarmed parks in early April, flouting social distancing guidelines as New Jersey's novel coronavirus cases were climbing quickly, Murphy said Friday authorities will be watching carefully to see how the reopening pans out.
If there are problems with crowd control that state officials worry could lead to a reversal of the positive trends the state has seen — with coronavirus hospital discharges outpacing intakes, and the rate of infection slowing in the hardest-hit parts of the state — Murphy might order parks closed once again, he said.
"This weekend will be a huge test for all of us," Murphy said at his daily press conference on the pandemic response.
He called the early-April crowds "extremely troubling," and told the reporters gathered, "If we see that again, we will not hesitate, and I don't say this with any joy, to close the parks."
He said enforcement would be conducted by state police, local authorities and park police as needed. If all goes well, the governor said, the state might consider moving toward allowing other currently-prohibited outdoor activities sooner.
"We're not trying to be jerks," Murphy said. "We're trying to watch and hopefully we like what we see."
No picnicking, barbecues contact sports or large gatherings will be allowed. Murphy is recommending, but not requiring, visitors to parks wear face masks.
Murphy's earlier order closing parks only addressed those run by counties and the state — municipal parks were allowed to stay open, at the discretion of local leadership. Individual counties will still have the option of keeping their own parks closed, even after Murphy's new order allowing them to open.
On Monday, the state's second-largest city reopened five municipal parks that had been closed since March. Jersey City continues to enforcing social distancing rules at the parks.
The mayors of the Wildwoods this week also said they are discussing reopening their resort beaches. Ship Bottom on Long Beach Island already opened its beach to residents. Other Jersey Shore communities have kept their beaches open while closing their boardwalks.
In Cape May County, parks will reopen, but the county zoo will not, the county's events coordinator told the Townsquare News Network Friday. Limited staff will be on hand to offer support.
Hunterdon County officials confirmed Friday their parks will be open, saying in a release from the county's freeholder board "the public more than ever needs the fresh air, exercise opportunities and physical activity that also helps to improve mental health, made available by visiting our parks and trails." But they stressed visitors should practice cautious social distancing, and said signs at the parks would help prompt the same.
It remained unclear mid-day Friday if Hudson County parks would reopen. Six mayors in the hard-hit county had said given the density of their communities, it could be too soon to reopen public spaces. Mayors and county officials were meeting Friday to discuss a course of action and expected an announcement sometime Friday.
— With earlier reporting by Sergio Bichao and Dan Alexander