Thirty-four state parks will open Friday, reversing an order from Gov. Tony Evers to close some state parks due to a lack of social distancing and vandalism.
A few areas will remain closed for health and safety concerns, including Gibraltar Rock, Pewit’s Nest, Parfrey's Glen, and the Dells of The Wisconsin River state natural areas. The remaining state parks will operate under reduced hours and capacities, and facilities such as bathrooms, shelters and watch towers will be closed to contain the spread of the virus.
“I am glad that we are able to reopen these spaces with new safety guidelines, so that people can enjoy our state parks and forests while we continue to prioritize public health and safety,” said Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes.
State Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-West Point, joined the lieutenant governor for a media call Tuesday, saying he expected Wisconsinites to follow best practices this time around.
“Wisconsinites are very smart, and I think they've figured out now that if state parks are going to be opened on the 1st [of May]...that social distancing will take place, Wisconsinites will do it on their own,” Erpenbach said.
Department of Natural Resources acting parks director Mark Aquino said state parks will start by reducing capacity to roughly 75% in order to achieve those social distancing goals.
“Those otherwise acceptable levels of crowding around beaches, observation towers, restrooms, trails would not be consistent with the public health goals here,” he said. “It will definitely be a process of monitoring, observing and adjusting as we go along.”
Aquino said that due to reduced services, including the availability of bathrooms, members of the public should take special care to prepare before they travel to a state park and stay close to their home communities.
Under the new order, part of that preparation will now include the need for park-goers to purchase annual passes before they can enter state parks. DNR Secretary Preston Cole said the reason to eliminate use of day passes, or allow free entry into the parks, was an issue of capacity.
“Individual day passes were the crux of the issue where you can't manage 100 additional people coming in through a day pass system when in fact you already have carrying capacity issues,” Cole said.
He added that park staff will have personal protective equipment, including masks, gloves and hand sanitizer. Cole said the department would also be able to move staff around if any shortages arise.
Detailed information on park opening information and operating hours can be found on the DNR’s COVID-19 website.