N.J. counties shutting down parks to slow coronavirus spread, but state parks still open

In line with Gov. Phil Murphy’s order Monday to tighten a state lockdown on public gatherings, parks in at least two New Jersey counties will be closed indefinitely due to the coronavirus outbreak, officials said.

“We had started to close some parks to the public last week in an effort to curtail large gatherings and because of a lack of social distancing,” Ocean County Freeholder Virginia E. Haines said in a statement.

Ocean County as of Monday had 874 cases of coronavirus, according to New Jersey health officials.

“Because the power of social distancing cannot be stressed enough, we are taking this next step and shutting down all of our parks and natural land sites to the public.”

“Parks and natural lands will be closed to the public starting at 6 p.m. (Tuesday) until further notice,” Ocean County officials said in a statement. There are 27 parks across the county spread across 4,000 acres, along with 30,000 acres of natural lands, officials said.

Ocean County had already shut down its two golf courses, public playgrounds, playing fields, in response to COVID-19, Haines said.

“It’s important we take this step (of closing all parks) to further protect our citizens from the spread of the coronavirus,” Haines said. “We have to take this seriously.”

Bergen County Executive Jim Tedesco last week ordered parks in his county closed as of 8 a.m. Saturday. The county on Monday continued to have more reported cases than any county in New Jersey – 2,482 across 69 municipalities, according to state officials.

“Keeping the parks open has placed a tremendous burden on local law enforcement, the Bergen County sheriff and other critical resources during this pandemic,” Tedesco said in an email.

Bergen County has nearly two dozen parks, miles of bicycle trails and numerous dog parks, according to its website.

“Local authorities have reported complications, including but not limited to traffic congestion, parking issues and non-compliance with social distancing guidelines, related to park visitation, resulting in the need for closure,” Tedesco said.

In the city of Hoboken, parks were closed 8 a.m. Monday for two weeks to halt the spread of COVID-19, said Mayor Ravi Bhalla.

Across New Jersey, state parks remain open but facilities — like restrooms, visitor centers and campgrounds — are closed until further notice in an effort to prevent the spread of the virus.

Other county-maintained parks in New Jersey as of Tuesday remained open but many of them with restrictions.

In Middlesex County, all events and picnics are suspended until April 30.

“Parks and open space will remain open to the public for passive recreation, including roads, parking areas, trails, lakes and other open space areas,” Middlesex County stated on its website.

“However, restrooms, comfort stations, playgrounds, dog parks, basketball and tennis courts, the flying field, and similar facilities are closed until further notice,” the county said.

Coronavirus cases in New Jersey continued to climb Monday with 16,636 cases spread among all 21 counties as of Monday. There have been 198 deaths since the first case was reported March 4, including 37 since Sunday.

Anthony G. Attrino may be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @TonyAttrino. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

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