By ERIN ROLL
Montclair and Essex County parks will reopen Saturday, May 2.
Township officials announced on Thursday that Montclair’s 18 municipal parks, nature preserves and open spaces would once again reopen, but for passive recreation only. County officials announced the reopening of its parks and golf courses on Thursday, as well.
State, county and township parks have been closed since March 16, in compliance with state rules on social distancing amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
Park users are also asked to wear face coverings and social distancing is required.
The announcement from the county and Montclair came the same day Gov. Phil Murphy announced that state and county parks and golf courses would be allowed to reopen on Saturday. The reopening of municipal parks would be at the discretion of local officials, he said.
Passive recreation activities include hiking, walking, running or jogging, biking and bird watching.
Picnic areas, playgrounds, basketball courts, tennis courts, restrooms, exercise stations and other park buildings, including the Edgemont Park House, will remain closed.
No picnics are allowed, and residents may not bring picnic blankets, coolers or any other picnic-related item into the parks. Organized sports or contact sports are also prohibited.
All park users are advised to maintain a six-foot distance from each other, except between family members, caretakers, household members and romantic partners.
All of the parks were closed off with yellow caution tape beginning on March 16. Electronic signboards at the park entrances informed motorists that the parks were closed to pedestrians and vehicles. However, with the warmer weather and people being cooped up during the COVID-19 lockdown, residents have been lobbying for the reopening of the parks and many ignored the caution tape and went into the parks.
Montclair is also home to five Essex County parks and reservations. Those will also reopen on Saturday, but face covering and social distancing are required in the county parks.
“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,” County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo said in a joint statement with Freeholder President Brendan Gill and Freeholder Vice President Wayne Richardson. “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.”
At golf courses, players will have to play with new rules in place. 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 two, instead of four, and each player must use their own golf cart. Golfers will begin their rounds 16 minutes apart, and tee times must be made through the automated tee time system through the Essex County website.
On Thursday, Murphy reminded the public that state authorities will be monitoring the situation in parks and golf courses carefully, and that the parks will be closed again if people do not adhere to social distancing guidelines.
“Don’t let a few knuckleheads ruin it for the rest of us,” he urged.