Lovers Leap State Park in New Milford. DOUG KERR / CREATIVE COMMONS
An excerpt from the DEEP’s notice about park use during the COVID-19 health emergency.
An excerpt from the DEEP’s notice about park use during the COVID-19 health emergency.

The Department of Energy and Environmental Protect Sunday said it is not kidding around when it comes to abiding by social distancing guidelines in the state’s parks and forests to help combat the spread of COVID-19. And that declaration now comes with a stern warning that roughly says: do it or else.

That “or else” could mean closing parks, said Lee Sawyer, chief of staff to Commissioner Katie Dykes, in an email. He indicated the department is closely monitoring park use and if proper distancing is not practiced or other rules for park use DEEP has issued in the last several weeks are not followed, access could be restricted to implement capacity reductions, or the parks could be closed altogether.

“If people do not heed common sense advice, parks close. That decision is made daily,” Sawyer said.

DEEP said it is endeavoring to keep parks open as long as possible for solitary recreation, but that people should reconsider plans to visit parks as the weather gets warmer and should expect closures, which will be posted on the department website and on Twitter – @CTStateParks.  The Twitter announcements note when a park has been closed because its parking lot is at capacity.

Groups larger than five people in a family or household are not allowed – period. Even families larger than five people will be required to split into separate groups using social distancing practices.

Picnicking is not allowed.

DEEP has already stated that once a park is closed, walk-ins are prohibited. That means no parking a car offsite and walking in. That violation or violation of group sizes could result in fines up to $5,000 and/or criminal charges up to a Class D felony.

And the department is reiterating that even if no signs are posted stating any of these measures – they are still in force.

DEEP has already closed indoor spaces at parks including restrooms; camping season has been postponed and educational activities are cancelled.

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Jan Ellen is CT Mirror's regular freelance Environment and Energy Reporter. As a freelance reporter, her stories have also appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Yale Climate Connections, and elsewhere. She is a former editor at The Hartford Courant, where she handled national politics including coverage of the controversial 2000 and 2004 presidential elections. She was an editor at the Gazette in Colorado Springs and spent more than 20 years as a TV and radio producer at CBS News and CNN in New York and in the Boston broadcast market. In 2013 she was the recipient of a Knight Journalism Fellowship at MIT on energy and climate. She graduated from the University of Michigan and attended Boston University’s graduate film program.

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