Wisconsin Public Radio

How to Enjoy State Parks Safely

Visit parks and natural areas, DNR Secretary says, but keep your distance.

By , Wisconsin Public Radio - Apr 5th, 2020 03:07 pm
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Havenwoods State Forest. (Public Domain).

Havenwoods State Forest. (Public Domain).

UPDATE: On March 9th, 2020 Gov. Evers directed the DNR to close 40 state parks, forests and recreational areas

Wisconsin is home to nearly 70 state parks and more than 40 state trails — not to mention many county parks, forests and natural areas. Wherever you live in the state, you’re not far from a quiet place to take in nature.

While Gov. Tony Evers has issued a stay-at-home order because of the COVID-19 outbreak, Wisconsin’s state parks, as well as other activities like hunting and fishing, remain open with voluntary entrance fees.

It’s a great time to take advantage of the many benefits state parks and outdoor recreation have to offer, but it’s also important to take the proper precautions, said Preston Cole, secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

“Get outdoors as much as you can,” he said. “These are times that are uneasy for all of us. And so our hope is that the state park system can offer a bit of relief for some of the anxiety that Wisconsinites are having.”

But before you head outdoors, Cole shared some guidelines and things to know before visiting the state parks.

The following has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

Keep Your Distance

Practice social distancing and stay at least 6 feet apart. Our staff will be making rounds specifically on trails and in trails and reminding folks. On occasion we’ve had folks come to our restrooms. We do not want to close parks, nor do we want to close restrooms. We’re just asking the visiting public to do the responsible thing and practice social distancing.

And our goal here is, there’s enough space in some of our parks. For example, Northern Highland American Legion State Forest in northern Wisconsin, for those folks who live close to that, it’s 236,000 acres. I could lose a whole city in 236,000 acres. And so I just want to remind folks, let’s get out on the landscape, be careful, practice social distancing and enjoy that park and all it has to offer.

Visit A Park Near You

The governor’s order is to stay close to home. Visit those parks and natural areas and state forests in your own backyard, in your local jurisdiction. People do worry and we worry as well. That’s why we ask people to stay close to home in their own communities to visit these locations.

And if there’s not a state park in close proximity, many, if not all local jurisdictions have a city park, a natural area, a boardwalk that offers the same opportunities in our cities, towns and villages throughout the state of Wisconsin.

Go to the Wisconsin DNR website, that provides a wonderful opportunity to look at all of our properties spread around the state — our trails, our state forests, our parks, our natural areas — and find more information about state parks and COVID-19.

Know Not All Parts Of The Park Will Be Open

Buildings, with the exception of some restrooms, will be closed. Camping is closed until April 30, and we’ll be re-evaluating that later in the spring. Guided tours and activities where people would congregate to listen to our naturalists, owl prowls to nature walks, all those activities are not going on.

While the buildings where our staff are may be closed, there are staff on site to go out and remind folks about social distancing — whether at our bathrooms, whether at our trailhead — where they should be practicing the governor’s edict.

Fishing is certainly an opportunity. Hiking, birding, those types of quiet activities most often done by a few people or on your own are still options and allows the solitude to quiet ourselves down and the calming effect that we believe is what the doctor ordered specifically for times like this.

Listen to the WPR report here.

State Parks Are Open. Here’s How To Enjoy Them Safely was originally published by Wisconsin Public Radio.

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