FL looks at reopening state parks — under certain conditions

By: - April 22, 2020 7:21 pm

Noah Valenstein, former secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Credit: DEP

Several dozen Florida state parks could potentially reopen, depending on the qualities and restrictions that would keep people safe for exercising and enjoying the outdoors.

The discussion came up at a state task force meeting about “reopening” Florida following the coronavirus outbreak that has changed American lives and kept people in their homes to ward off COVID-19 disease and deaths.

Noah Valenstein, Secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, spoke Wednesday about evaluating which state parks could reopen.

Considerations would be low-activity or high-activity exercises (such as canoeing, strolling or jogging), how confined or open the parks are, and how guests are encouraged to interact.

Some parks have beach access, and there are cases where boat ramps are open but the parks themselves are not.

“We have an opportunity to take recommendations from the task force, the governor, and health agencies,” Valenstein said.

Clear communication to visitors about how to interact will be key to safely reopening the parks, he added.

Some beaches and parks, including Duval County, have already reopened, with restricted activities.

In Jacksonville, park pavilions, picnic areas, and restrooms remain closed to the public to discourage group gatherings. Children can access the public playgrounds, so long as visitors follow social distancing guidelines.

“Why not open up larger space for people to move around in a safe way?” Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry asked during a conference call with the Re-Open Task Force Industry Working Group.

“It’s working for us.”

Curry said that the presence of law enforcement and fire rescue help enforce the social distancing guidelines on Jacksonville’s beaches.

“I would just make sure you have the presence of police and fire rescue…It’s just a reminder for people not to congregate, not to stop, and not to get into compact spaces.”

In addition, public parking remains closed, which discourages non-residents from using Jacksonville beaches. Curry said that most people using the beach are residents that live near-by.

The task force has little set in stone when it comes to reopening dates. According to Curry, they’re taking considerations day by day.

“We feel like what we’ve done is given people some relief and opportunity to get out in some space,” said Curry.

“For, at least, the foreseeable and the immediate future, we’re going to maintain these restrictions.”

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Danielle J. Brown
Danielle J. Brown

Danielle J. Brown is a 2018 graduate of Florida State University. She has served as an editorial intern for International Program’s annual magazine and Rowland Publishing. She was born and raised in Tallahassee and reviews community theater productions for the Tallahassee Democrat.