Gov. Phil Murphy’s order to close all state and county Parks forced us to consider what to do since his order did not apply to municipal parks.
Initially, my sense is that we can anticipate that if we leave our parks open while all other surrounding communities close theirs (along with the county and state parks closed), our parks would then be a destination for people seeking some outdoor park activities.
This increased activity would create more opportunities for breaching the physical distancing restrictions that have been imposed to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
But, like a broken record, I have always been of the mindset that we don’t simply follow what other towns do without thoughtful consideration of all the facts, and how those facts and circumstances apply to our community.
I met with our police chief to get a better sense of what his assessment about what was happening in our parks.
I have made a point to visit our parks during this time to monitor the situation myself, but I certainly would get a better idea from the chief’s perspective.
We both agreed that though there have been some small gatherings of kids sporadically, that it has not been to a degree that would cause a deep concern to address it by the drastic decision to shut all parks down.
As I said previously, providing areas for people to decompress, get some fresh air, some exercise—in a responsible way—is extremely important.
Not everyone has a large home with a giant back yard and endless options to keep busy on their own property. We need to make decisions by considering all of the residents in our community.
The chief and I concluded that we should keep the parks open but closely monitor them over the next couple of days.
We have increased police presence in our parks during this time, and that the officers will be actively addressing gatherings of three people or more, but will do this from a distance to not unnecessarily put them in a situation risking exposure to the virus for a non-law enforcement situation.
I implore all the parents of teens who they let go to the parks to spend some time educating them on social distancing, the pandemic, and why it is important to follow the guidelines of the health officials fighting the spread of this virus on our behalf. If they don’t care about themselves, try offering up caring for others as an alternative means of persuasion.
So our parks will remain open for now. They will be closely monitored. If we come to realize that people simply can’t abide by the physical distancing requirements despite our best efforts, I will make the decision to close the parks.
We, as a community, also have a responsibility to be a part of the solution, not the problem. Knowing that we tried, and knowing that it was important enough to give it an extra effort on behalf of the community has to be enough for now. Stay safe and well!
Kevin Nerwinski is the Lawrence Township municipal manager.