STATEMENT OF DEP COMMISSIONER CATHERINE R. MCCABE
ON THE CLOSURE OF STATE PARKS & FORESTS DURING COVID-19 OUTBREAK
DEP takes seriously its many responsibilities to protect the environment and public health, and to act as steward of the public parks, forests and other state lands that are so important to the people of New Jersey.
Temporarily closing the parks and forests during the surge of the COVID-19 outbreak was a very difficult, but necessary, decision. All of us at DEP understand the need for fresh air and exercise, and the desire of our New Jersey family to get outside when so many of us are feeling stressed and restless during this difficult time. That is why DEP continued to encourage public use of the state parks for as long as possible.
Unfortunately, as weather warmed in recent weeks, just as the COVID-19 outbreak was surging, the crowds at our parks became too large for our State Park Police to continue ensuring the social distancing that is so critical in our fight to prevent further spread of the virus. Just prior to Governor Murphy’s issuance of Executive Order 118 closing state and county parks, state park visitation was at unusually high levels, with large numbers of visitors coming from out of state. Our law enforcement officers were forced to issue hundreds of verbal warnings to practice social distancing, disperse more than 160 gatherings of multiple people, and break up fights over parking spaces in overcrowded lots. Our officers even had to evict attendees at a wedding. This was creating unsafe conditions, for visitors as well as park personnel, in too many places and very likely would have worsened over the holiday weekend.
While it pains us to see our parks closed, we must all heed the Governor’s urgent call for people to stay home as much as possible right now. This is helping New Jersey to flatten the curve of COVID-19 cases, and keeping all of our families safer. We must remain patient and committed to this effort. As soon as it is safer, Executive Order 118 will be lifted and all of us at DEP will eagerly welcome you back to the state parks. In the meantime, please continue to follow the Governor’s direction to stay home, and take good care of yourselves and your families.