- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 24, 2020

To relieve the monotony of staying in their homes to avoid the coronavirus, people increasingly are availing themselves of the wonders of nature in city, state and national parks — and authorities increasingly are telling them to go back inside.

On Sunday, officials in Santa Monica, California, closed beach parking lots after many visitors had flouted the state’s stay-at-home directive to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has warned of stricter measures to dissuade residents from congregating in parks, as revelers did in Washington Square Park hours before Sunday’s 8 p.m. implementation of a statewide order for six feet of social distancing and non-essential workers to remain home.

“You want to go for a walk? God bless you. You want to go for a run? God bless,” Mr. Cuomo said at a weekend news conference before criticizing people who had indulged in outside activities as “arrogant.”

Meanwhile, the Interior Department sent workers home from several national parks, including Badlands National Park in western South Dakota. But a number of visitors flooded the park, taking advantage of open roads and no entry fees.

“We understand the reasons behind this decision,” Phil Francis, chairman of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks, said in a statement after Interior Secretary David Bernhardt waived entrance fees last week to encourage social distancing. “But these are not normal circumstances. We should not be encouraging more visitation to our national parks.”

Since Sunday, nearly 30 national parks, historic sites, national river ways, and battlefields — from Carl Sandburg Home in North Carolina to Denali Mountain in Alaska — have shuttered or listed modified operations.

“All access to the park, including trails and roads, will temporarily close in alignment with efforts to control the spread of COVID-19 across the region,” according to a Tuesday press release.

After a busy weekend, staff at several parks began closing roads, restrooms, and visitor centers, including Zion National Park in Utah, where visitors crowded steep, narrow trails; and Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, where congestion prompted an official social media post warning against hiking Old Rag and Dark Hollow Falls.

The White House’s coronavirus task force discourages being in public groups of more than 10 people, discretionary travel, shopping trips and social visits. People going outside are encouraged to stay six feet from one another.

As a result, many cities have taped off or closed playgrounds. Photographs circulated online of orange tape surrounding the playground in Mark Twain’s hometown of Hannibal, Missouri.

In the nation’s capital, currently under a state of emergency, parks filled amid springtime conditions over the weekend, with parking lots filled Saturday at Theodore Roosevelt Island, which is maintained by the National Park Service.

“Where it is possible to adhere to federal, state, and local health guidance, outdoor spaces will remain accessible to the public, and entrance-fee free,” the park service said Tuesday a statement issued to The Washington Times.

By Tuesday, governors had issued shelter-in-place or stay-at-home orders in Ohio, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Delaware, West Virginia, California, New York, New Jersey and Oregon. Authorities in Dallas County, Philadelphia, Atlanta, St. Louis and Kansas City were implementing similar measures.

“Take a walk, ride your bike, hike, jog, and be in nature for exercise,” West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said in issuing a stay-at-home order. “[J]ust keep at least six feet between you and others.”

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