After Gov. Larry Hogan (R) issued a stay-at-home order earlier this week in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, state and St. Mary’s County-owned parks are operating with new limitations.
According to a county press release, waterfront parks including Elms Beach, Myrtle Point and Snow Hill will now be closed to the public. Public landings, such as boat ramps, piers and gathering spaces are also closed to the public, with the exception of watermen with valid licenses to use the public landings. Recreational boating is not permitted under the governor’s order.
All other county-owned parks are open for exercise activities, such as walking, hiking, running or biking while adhering to recommended 6-foot social distancing measures. All sports and activities which engage in bodily contact including basketball, soccer and football will not be allowed, along with the gathering of groups of more than 10 people in any specific area of the park.
According to Gregg Bortz, media relations manager for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, kayaking and paddle boarding are a form of exercise and are still permitted under the executive order as long as social distancing and the prohibition on social gatherings is strictly followed. Canoes can also be used, again following social distancing guidelines, which means a duo is allowed only if the two have been residing together.
He said according to DNR guidelines, “limited fishing is allowed if you are seeking food for you or your family, meaning you are keeping what you catch, provided it’s of legal size and species,” and as long as social distancing guidelines are followed.
Arthur Shepherd, director of the county’s department of recreation and parks, told The Enterprise this week the closure signs for the 15 public landings will be put up on Wednesday.
While some parks remain open to the public for exercise, it was not specified whether children would be allowed to use playground equipment, but Shepherd said the department discourages it. They are still discussing whether to officially close off the 18 playgrounds in the county’s parks.
Last Saturday, Shepherd said extra recreation and parks staff were stationed at some of the busiest county parks to monitor safe use and access, including John G. Lancaster Park and Nicolet Park in Lexington Park, Dorsey Park in Leonardtown and Fifth District Park in Mechanicsville and John V. Baggett Park in Laurel Grove.
“The extra staff wouldn’t allow the playgrounds to get crowded,” he said.
Equipment in county parks has been adjusted, soccer goals moved and nets and rims removed from basketball backboards to limit any activity which would violate social distancing guidelines.
Parks have been seeing generally higher levels of visitation during weekdays since nonessential businesses and schools have been closed to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the state, but Shepherd said weekend visits have been down, partly because “all practices and [sports] games have been canceled.”
Maribeth Ganzell of Lexington Park has been frequently visiting some local parks while her two kids are out of school.
She said the goal in her family right now is to get outside every day. They often use the trails at Historic St. Mary’s City and they also enjoy kayaking at Point Lookout State Park and St. Mary’s River State Park.
“We all miss our friends, and we miss work,” she said, adding sometimes they’ll hike or bike with a few others but arrive in separate cars and remain 6 feet apart the whole time, which is still “within talking distance.”
“We’re happy state parks stayed open,” she said in an interview this week. “We’re doing really well” during this chaotic time, “because we’re able to get fresh air and go outside.”