Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources will close forty parks and outdoor recreation areas throughout Wisconsin, mostly in the southern part of the state. The change takes effect tomorrow.
Since Governor Tony Evers issued his Stay-At-Home order late last month, Wisconsin’s parks have served as a way for people to get outside and stay healthy. Evers himself encouraged people to stay active during the pandemic.
“You can still go out, take a walk, go for a bike ride, walk the dog,” said Evers. “It’s good exercise and it’s good for everybody’s mental health. But please don’t take any other unnecessary trips.”
However, the DNR says it is now necessary to close many state parks because of vandalism, littering, and record attendance.
According to the Department of Natural Resources, High Cliff Park, located near Lake Winnebago, had over 16,000 visitors between April 4 and April 5, which is a record high. Other parks, such as Devil’s Lake, had more than seven thousand visitors during the same period.
But local parks, including those in Dane County and the City of Madison, are keeping their parks open. Heidi Wegleitner, a Dane County supervisor, says county leadership does not currently feel it is necessary to close down the local parks.
“Not all of the state parks were closed,” said Wegleitner. “They are monitoring the usage, so they had, I think, a record number, very high utilization of those state parks, and that was the basis for the closures, to my understanding. I can speak to that. I took my six-year old to Governor Nelson last week on one of those sunny days and it was very busy. More busy than I’ve ever seen it before. Dane County is monitoring the usage as well, and at this point we do not believe we need to close because we think people can still utilize the parks safely.”
Wegleitner says that the county believes parks serve an important role as ways for people to exercise during Governor Evers’ Stay-At-Home order. However, the parks division is taking steps to keep people safe. According to Anne Shea, a spokesperson for Madison Parks, that means educating people about where they can and can’t go.
“We’ve been working through Public Health Madison and Dane County to put together some tips of dos and don’ts in order to keep our parks open,” said Shea. “So the main message we’re trying to get out to the public is our local marks will remain open as long as people use them wisely. And by that we mean the social distancing, the no large groups, the remaining off of playgrounds, sport courts, and all of those other things that we’ve really been trying to push out that message of what is not open within a park, but in general the trails and open spaces are open.”
Shea says that more advice is available on the City of Madison’s website. The DNR is also encouraging people to stay six feet away from others to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The DNR says that if visitors continue to vandalize the parks and people get too close to others, more parks will have to close.
The Stay-At-Home Order is set to expire in a little over two weeks, on April 24th. But the state health department can extend that deadline at any time.