While Gov. Phil Murphy permitted state and county parks to reopen as New Jersey continues to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, park officials are taking an extra step to ensure all visitors are taking precautions ahead of Memorial Day weekend.
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has launched a “Mask Up!” campaign to remind residents and visitors to wear face masks to state parks, beaches, forests and other public areas, especially when it is difficult to maintain a 6-foot distance from others.
The campaign includes posters and social media content that can be used by municipalities and counties in communicating the message.
The DEP will also be posting the signs throughout state forests, parks and wildlife management areas.
“We need people to understand the importance of the capacity limitations of our facilities and our restrooms,” said Catherine McCabe, DEP commissioner.
Some public restrooms have reopened at parks, with additional restrooms opening this weekend.
More public restrooms will reopen in phases as state and county parks bring on additional staff, McCabe said.
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“We’ve only just begun to bring our seasonal staff onboard, and we’re usually up to speed by now,” she said. “We need people to understand that it is extraordinary difficult with our limited staffing to provide the level and the frequency of cleaning that is needed.”
She said while people may think a park may be a safe place to be outdoors and not wear a face covering, it depends on what size park a visitor is in or where they are in the park.
“You might find yourself on a narrow trail and you don’t know who is coming in your direction,” she said. “Or it could be on a wider trail where you suddenly find yourself in close quarters with runners and bikers that are in the same space. Or it could be a lovely open space that could become more crowded.”
This is where wearing masks at all times comes in, she said.
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Assistant Commissioner for Natural & Historic Resources Ray Bukowski said parks are working to obtain enough cleaning supplies and resources to keep up with sanitation regulations ahead of the holiday weekend.
Swimming is still prohibited, but the DEP plans to phase swimming and camping back in on the road to fully reopening its facilities.
“A lot of decision making needs to be made along the way, but we are planning every single phase, down to the protocol of the exchanging of money,” Bukowski said. “In the next coming weeks, we’ll have a lot more clarity.”