New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced at his daily press briefing Wednesday afternoon that state parks will reopen for passive recreation as of sunrise on Saturday, May 2. Golf courses in the state will also be allowed to reopen on Saturday.
“This will bring us in line with our neighboring states,” Murphy said. “I did not want to see us in a situation where residents would needlessly be crossing state lines in either direction.”
County governments will be allowed to decide whether county parks remain open or closed, Murphy said. Parking at all parks — state, county, and municipal — will be capped at 50 percent of capacity, Murphy said.
Playgrounds, pavilions, visitor centers, and restrooms will remain closed. Picnics, organized activities, and team sports remain prohibited.
“To be clear, we cannot have everyone rush out to a park or golf course. Social distancing will be strongly enforced,” Murphy said, adding that he expects golf course personnel to enforce this requirement.
“We want you to stay close to home,” Murphy said. “Go to a park that is near you.”
Murphy said state officials are recommending that residents wear face coverings at parks and golf courses. “I have not mandated this as part of the executive order. It is a strong recommendation that you cover your face,” he said, adding that officials will be observing this weekend how people adhere to the social distancing guidelines and recommendations to wear face coverings. He said officials reserve the right to mandate the wearing of face coverings depending on how people follow the recommendations and proper social distancing.
On Tuesday, for the second time in two weeks, several hundred protesters gathered in downtown Trenton to protest the stay at home order and the closure of state parks. Murphy said the protesters did not influence his decision to re-open parks. He said all of his decisions to reopen the state will be based on data, science, and coordination with neighboring states.
“I recognize and appreciate every one of you who reached out to me privately or spoke publicly over the last several weeks, including some of the protesters who urged this action,” Murphy said of the decision to open state parks.
“I don’t know how to say this delicately, but with the exception fo the mental health case that many of you have brought my way, the interventions to me did not matter one little bit. So with all due respect to all the pressure that has been out there, we couldn’t frankly care. We made this call based on data, science, and facts, and the exception is mental health,” Murphy said. Trust me, I did not order these closures on a whim. They were made only after detailed discussions with public health and public safety personnel.”
Murphy said the decision to closed state parks was made to slow the spread of COVID-19 and decrease the rate of infection.
“In the absence of either a vaccine or proven therapeutics, the only tools we have are covering your face and social distancing,” he said. “This means we have had to make hard choices. But these choices have saved lives. I am the one who bears the burden of making these decisions, and there is no amount of incoming that I won’t take to save the life of one child, one mother, one father, one grandparent, one neighbor,” he said.
Muphy said he made the decision to open parks again based on the framework of principles he outlined on Monday.
“We have seen a consistent reduction in some key metrics, including hospitalizations,” Murphy said. “I am hopeful that we are getting on the road back.”