With the weather turning milder many Pennsylvanians are eager to get outside and enjoy nature–especially after being quarantined under Gov. Tom Wolf’s COVID-19 stay-at-home order throughout the month of April.
Over the weekend Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn delivered news that was music to many nature-lovers’ ears, announcing a partial reopening of some state park and forest facilities that is in keeping with Wolf’s directives to ensure that residents have opportunities to safely enjoy outdoor recreation as a way to maintain positive physical and mental health.
The reopening only applies to parks located within the 24 northern tier counties that are moving from a red (or shutdown) phase to a yellow (or partial reopening) phase May 8, as part of Wolf’s Plan to Reopen Pennsylvania.
Those counties include Bradford, Cameron, Centre, Clarion, Clearfield, Clinton, Crawford, Elk, Erie, Forest, Jefferson, Lawrence, Lycoming, McKean, Mercer, Montour, Northumberland, Potter, Snyder, Sullivan, Tioga, Union, Venango and Warren.
“As the weather turns warmer, DCNR anticipates even greater numbers of people will be looking for opportunities to be outdoors–to connect with nature and exercise for good health,” Dunn said. “As staffing allows and with the appropriate protocols in place to ensure safety, we are working to reopen our state parks and forests so that Pennsylvanians can realize all of the benefits associated with being outdoors.”
Dunn announced that at least one public restroom in day use areas and at nine marinas in the eligible state parks and forests will be open to the public as of this Friday, May 8.
According to the news release, additional cleaning protocols for park restrooms will be in place, in accordance with Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines.
In yellow phase counties, state park and forest facilities including offices, campgrounds and the Nature Inn at Bald Eagle will open to the public on May 15.
Meanwhile, all campgrounds and cabins in the state parks that are reopening will remain closed until mid-June, to allow staff ample time to clean and prepare them for use.
All playgrounds, nature play areas, interpretive centers, amphitheaters and group camping facilities statewide will remain closed indefinitely, and swimming beaches statewide will be closed until June 6.
All programs, events and large gatherings that were scheduled through June 15 at state parks and forests in counties that are designated red have been canceled.
Based on availability, organizers will have the opportunity to reschedule events for later in the year. However, no new reservations for park events or activities are being taken.
In yellow-designated counties, any events with more than 25 people will be canceled, along with any indoor events that were planned.
Consistent with Wolf’s guidelines for reopening, facilities such as park pavilions will only be available for groups under 25 and will be rented on a first come, first serve basis, it was announced. Picnic tables in open state parks will be moved apart to provide visitors room to spread out and avoid crowds, in accordance with social distancing guidelines.
When available, campsites and cabins in state parks should only be used by individuals living in the same household as part of ongoing COVID-19 mitigation efforts.
Although state parks in the Lehigh Valley and many other parts of the state will remain closed in the near future, most local and county parks are open, and the DCNR reminded residents that they can still access DCNR trails, lakes, rivers, streams, forests, roads and parking areas statewide for recreation.
People who live in areas still under stay-at-home orders are advised not to travel long distances for outdoor recreation and should instead recreate closer to home, state officials have said.
Visitors can help keep state parks and forest lands safe by following these practices:
- Avoid crowded parking lots and trailheads.
- Bring a bag and either carry out your trash or dispose of it properly.
- Clean up after pets.
- Avoid activities that put you at greater risk of injury, so you don’t require a trip to an emergency room.
To help avoid exposure to COVID-19 and protect others, and still enjoy the outdoors, the DCNR said visitors to state parks should:
- Avoid hiking or recreating in groups. Instead, enjoy nature with others from under the same roof and adhere to social distancing guidelines, i.e. stay six feet apart from other visitors.
- Wear a face mask or face covering.
- Take hand sanitizer along and use it regularly.
- Avoid touching your face, eyes and nose.
- Cover your nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing with a tissue or flexed elbow.
- If you are sick, stay home.