Crowds enjoying springtime force NJ to close all county and state parks
BRIDGEWATER — Pandemic? What pandemic?
With the sun shining bright and afternoon temperatures reaching for 70 degrees, the Raritan River trail at Duke Island Park on Monday was as crowded as any spring day.
Runners jostled for space with strolling couples and families on bicycles.
But it may be a long time before Somerset County residents will be able to enjoy this bit of nature once again.
Gov. Phil Murphy on Tuesday signed an executive order mandating the closure of all state and county parks.
The decision on whether to keep municipal parks open will rest with each municipality. Many Jersey Shore communities already have closed their beaches and boardwalks. And playgrounds have been out of bounds for weeks.
Until now, park fields and trails had been among the only public places not affected by the governor's stay-at-home orders, aimed at slowing the spread of the highly contagious novel coronavirus.
While Murphy has been reminding the state to heed the nightly 8 p.m. curfew, work from home and nix all gatherings with friends and family, he also had been telling people to continue going outside for walks and exercise.
On Tuesday, he said the people of New Jersey should take those walks closer to home after getting reports of packed parks.
"Take a walk or ride a bike in your neighborhood or in a park in your town that is open," Murphy said.
"We need 100% compliance to flatten the curve and unfortunately that now requires us to take this step."
The executive order was one of four that Murphy signed on Tuesday, a day on which the state recorded its highest single-day report of new coronavirus cases and deaths. New Jersey now has 44,416 cases and 1,232 deaths related to the virus.
Other orders signed by Murphy on Tuesday extends the public health emergency by another 30 days; moves the April school board election to May; and waives student testing requirements for graduation, including the portfolio appeal, and waives the use of testing data for evaluating educators.