Murphy: NJ State Parks, Essex County Parks to Reopen Saturday — as Long as Visitors ‘Do the Right Thing’

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New Jerseyans rejoiced when they heard the news that Gov. Phil Murphy ordered state parks and golf courses to reopen beginning this weekend, after being closed for more than three weeks. Murphy said that as the state is no longer seeing an increase in the number of new COVID-19 cases, and has seen a decrease in hospitalizations, the state wants residents to “safely enjoy outdoor recreation, with reasonable restrictions…”

Parks and golf courses will reopen Saturday, May 1 at sunrise. (Perfect timing, since the weekend is looking to be a beautiful one.) Local governments still have the authority to open or close county and municipal parks.

However, there are caveats: parks will be open at 50% capacity (in parking lots), social distancing must be maintained, and face coverings are strongly suggested.

Murphy cautioned residents at his Thursday press briefing that the state would closely monitor that visitors are abiding by the rules. If not: “I will not hesitate to reverse course and close our parks again. That will bring me no joy… but we’ll have no choice.”

The Governor added: “We know the overwhelming majority of you will be doing the right thing…Please put a mask or face covering on in addition to keeping social distancing [and] don’t let a few knuckleheads ruin it for the rest of us.”

Closer to home, Essex County announced it would follow the Governor’s lead and reopen its parks and golf courses — as long as visitors wear face coverings (which are required, not suggested) and follow social distancing rules. Dog parks, playgrounds, the Turtle Back Zoo (and the zoo parking decks) are still closed.

See the press release at the end of this article for more information on Essex County Parks.

Murphy signed an executive order on April 7 to shutter all state parks to halt the spread of coronavirus. Some counties had already made the decision to close parks, dog parks, golf courses and playgrounds well before the governor’s order  — including Essex County, which did so on March 16. 

See more information and a full list of state parks here.

But before you go flocking to your favorite local park, here’s what you need to know:

  • Parking at state parks will be limited to 50% capacity.
  • Picnic areas, playgrounds, visitor centers and restrooms will remain closed.
  • The parks are open for “passive recreation,” which includes walking, running, jogging, hiking and biking as well as fishing/ hunting, boating/canoeing, birding, and horseback riding.

And while facial coverings are not required at state parks (as they are in Essex County), they are “strongly” recommended, according to the Governor.

“We’re basically saying: We’re prepared to trust you,” said Murphy. “You’ve been trusting us, and we will never forget that. We’re returning some amount of that trust by saying, ‘We’re gonna open these up, but you’ve got to behave in a certain way.’”

Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr., Freeholder President Brendan Gill and Vice President Wayne Richardson announced that parks and golf courses that are part of the Essex County Parks System will be reopened to the public beginning on Saturday, May 2nd at 8 a.m. Parks will be open to the public for passive use only and golf courses will offer modified play, which is allowable according to the Executive Order issued by Gov. Phil Murphy. Those who visit the parks are required to wear a face covering and practice social distancing.

“We are pleased to be reopening our parks and golf courses in accordance with Gov. Murphy’s Executive Order. Our County Parks always have provided an outlet for our residents to enjoy the outdoors, get some fresh air and exercise. With the weather getting warmer and after following stay-at-home guidelines, residents are anxious to find something to do and get outside,” DiVincenzo, Gill and Richardson said. “We hope visitors to our parks enjoy our open spaces. We strongly encourage everyone to be respectful of others in our parks, wear face coverings, avoid large groups and practice social distancing. Just because our parks and golf courses are open, does not mean we have beat the Coronavirus. We must continue to be vigilant and protect ourselves as much as we can,” they stated.

Essex County Parks will be open for passive recreation only. This includes running, walking and sitting. Visitors must wear face coverings and follow social distancing guidelines, which require 6 feet between each person. Playgrounds; tennis, basketball and bocce courts; dog parks; baseball, softball, soccer and football fields; exercise and par courses; Turtle Back Zoo, paddle boating at the South Mountain Recreation Complex and the Environmental Center will remain closed. Large groups of people are not allowed. In addition, all park buildings and restroom buildings will be closed. Since Turtle Back Zoo is closed, the zoo parking decks also will be closed.

Essex County golf courses – Francis Byrne Golf Course, Hendricks Field Golf Course and Weequahic Golf Course – will offer modified play in accordance with USGA COVID-19 Rules and Handicapping Guidelines. To minimize touching common surfaces, the holes have been raised so the flags do not have to be removed. Golfers will only be allowed to play in groups of 2 (instead of the usual 4) and each player must use their own golf cart. Golfers will be begin their rounds 16 minutes apart and tee times must be made through the automated tee time system at The online tee time system will be open on Friday, May 1st. Payments must be made with a credit card; no cash will be accepted. The clubhouses will be open to allow golfers to get their clubs from the locker room. Gathering will not be allowed; restrooms inside the buildings will not be open.



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