As of Friday, state parks and beaches remained open with many visitors enjoying Connecticut’s open spaces this past week.
While anything can change fast as the nation grapples with the spread of coronavirus, Tom Tyler, director of Connecticut parks, said Monday they have no directive yet to close state parks due to coronavirus concerns and the health guidelines from the governor and Centers for Disease Control don’t indicate visiting parks is dangerous as long as people practice social distancing.
As of Friday, DEEP had not made any closure announcements, according to the department’s website and social media channels.
Eric Hammerling, director of the Connecticut Forest and Parks Association, said it was encouraging to see people out enjoying nature.
“We’re encouraging people to be smart and safe, but get out and go for a walk if your body feels like it,” he said.
The decision to close a park or beach is often a local one. Though Florida’s state government hasn’t closed beaches, many municipalities and counties there have.
And while South Carolina’s governor has not ordered beaches to close, police will disperse large crowds gathered on beaches.
Hammerling said he has closely followed all the CDC’s health recommendations about protecting against coronavirus, which all focus on avoiding groups and highly trafficked surfaces, but being in nature doesn’t conflict with that.
“Parks and forests are open and a great resource to enjoy the nice weather,” Tyler said. “We’re encouraging folks to come out and the state’s guidance doesn’t discourage the use. We all recognize this is a dynamic time and advice and rules are changing frequently, but at this point we’re welcoming people to come out and they’re doing it.”
State parks include beaches such as Hammonasset in Madison, Silver Sands in Milford and Rocky Neck in East Lyme.
DEEP, however did announce the closure of some state park facilities, which include Meigs Point Nature Center at Hammonasset, Kellogg Environmental Center in Derby, Dinosaur State Park in Rocky Hill, Putnam Memorial State Park Visitors Center in Redding and Gillette Castle Visitors Center in East Haddam. See the full closure list here.
Some towns, including Hamden, Middletown and Ansonia, have closed the playgrounds and park facilities, but are keeping the grounds open for use as long as people physically distance themselves from each other.
However, Fairfield First Selectwoman Brenda Kupchick announced all public parks, beaches and facilities — including Lake Mohegan Trails, Cascades, all public open recreational spaces and the public golf courses — were closed effective March 16.
Despite the order — and police who are patrolling the town’s open spaces — Kupchick took to social media on Thursday, after a third Fairfield resident was confirmed to have the coronavirus, to remind people to stay away from public spaces in general.
Kupchick said she had received emails from people unhappy that the town has closed beaches, parks and school grounds. She said she was also receiving numerous reports and photos of crowded beaches and children playing sports together on school property.
“This is putting our children, your children, at risk and, consequently, you and every person they come in contact with in our community,” Kupchick said on Thursday. “I understand the urge to get out and be outside, but we need to practice safe social distancing.”
Kupchick asked residents to go on walks or runs in their neighborhoods, play in their yards or do yard work. She said people should not congregate in the closed public places.
“I am urging our residents to listen to the guidance of health care professionals and stay home unless you need groceries or medical supplies, so that we can flatten the curve,” Kupchick said. “To be clear, this means changing our normal routines to stop the spread of this highly contagious virus.”
Kupchick said it was up to residents to protect each other.
Stamford has not announced any park, beach, playground or parking lot closures yet, according to Special Assistant Arthur Augustyn in the mayor’s office, but the city said it will adapt its approach as appropriate.
Parks are some of the last public spaces that are still welcoming people.
“DEEP is constantly evaluating whether its public spaces should remain open to the public,” DEEP spokesman Lee Sawyer said. “We’re going to continue to make those evaluations and certainly we hope we can keep our public parks open.”
Sawyer said residents across the state were at state parks enjoying the weather and Sleeping Giant State Park was at capacity over the weekend.
Monday, many hikers still filled the park, with about 75 cars in the lots.
“I just wanted to get out of the house and still feel connected to the world,” hiker Dannah Ortiz said, who is a teacher in Farmington.
She was hiking with a friend, also a teacher, but since Gov. Ned Lamont ordered for all public schools to close until at least the end of the month and everyone is being asked to stay away from crowds or gatherings, they’ve been spending more time inside.
“There’s only so long I can watch Netflix inside,” Ortiz’s companion said.
Monday the governor joined the leaders of New Jersey and New York in a unified order to close all movie theaters, gyms, fitness centers, studios, restaurants and bars that serve food for eat-in customers as of 8 p.m.
“It’s all about social distancing and making sure folks keep distance,” Tyler said. “It continues to be a safe activity.”
Mike Peck, who said he visits Sleeping Giant around three times a week, said he’d never seen so many people at the park on a Monday morning before.
“It appears there’s a lot of people here trying to tire their kids out,” he said.
Peck said he’s retired and often goes out to stores or restaurants, but lately he and his wife have been staying home more. If he didn’t go hiking, “I’d be losing my mind by now,” he said.
Tyler and Hammerling said if people practice safe distances going outside can be highly beneficial for their physical and mental health.
“After all the anxiety inducing stuff, it’s nice to be in a place with other people who are trying to be a little Zen about it and enjoy the fresh air, sun on their face and moving,” Hammerling said.
Caroline Knise and Yolanda Kostenao, who were hiking along Sleeping Giant’s tower trail Monday, said they went out to gain some peace of mind amid a lot of anxiety that’s been associated with news of the virus.
“It feels good and it helps you feel more in control,” Knise said.
In Litchfield, the 4,000-acre White Memorial Conservation Center has canceled all scheduled activities and programs, but the grounds are open 24 hours a day, said James Fischer, research director at the center.
“So far, the grounds and trails remain open,” he said. “It’s a great way to get out and enjoy a little open space, a little elbow room. We’re blessed in northwest Connecticut to have an abundance of parks and trails and the efforts of conservation make that possible.”
Hammerling said Connecticut has so many open spaces to hike and play that “even if everyone decided to go out at once, there are plenty of places to do it.”
“We have been for many years talking about the value of outdoors and its at time like this that it really hits home,” he said.