State and county officials announced the reopening of many park facilities and some programs in counties that are part of the state's yellow recovery phase during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Some of our parks saw record attendance in April, and with warming weather DCNR anticipates even more people seeking outdoors opportunities to connect with nature and exercise,” said Cindy Adams Dunn, state DCNR secretary.
The state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources announced Tuesday counties that moved to yellow status May 15, which includes Butler County, can reopen tent and RV camping and park offices Friday.
That includes Moraine State Park and Jennings Environmental Education Center. Facilities at McConnells Mill State Park in neighboring Lawrence County would have reopened May 15 as that county moved to the yellow phase one week ahead of Butler County. All three DCNR parks are popular among Butler County residents, as well as regionally.
Facilities such as cabins, cottages, lodges and yurts in all yellow counties will open June 12, according to a DCNR news release.
Activities that could attract 25 people or more in DCNR parks are canceled. Activities with fewer than 25 people can only occur outdoors.
Those using tent or RV campsites in yellow counties should be people living in the same household.
“With appropriate protocols in place to ensure safety and as staffing permits, this department continues working to reopen our state parks and forests so that Pennsylvanians can realize all benefits associated with being outdoors,” Dunn said.
At this time, parks will not reopen in counties remaining in the red phase. All parks statewide will have at least one open restroom in day use areas and marinas.
Parks getting lots of use
Wil Taylor, manager at Jennings Environmental Education Center, said while the buildings have been closed, the nature trails at Jennings have seen heavy use in the past eight weeks, likely by those tired of being cooped up in their homes during the statewide stay-at-home order.
Come Friday, the office, gift shop and additional restrooms at Jennings will be reopened, but the popular classes normally offered, as well as the exhibits at Jennings, will not.
“We can't open our classroom or exhibit area because they contain high-touch areas that could congregate 25 people,” Taylor said.
He said the DCNR could reopen those areas by June 15, depending on the status of the pandemic at that point.
Taylor said the picnic pavilions at Jennings can no longer be reserved online, but will be available for use on a first-come, first-served basis until further notice.
He said salaried employees at all DCNR parks were retained during the pandemic, but seasonal employees were furloughed.
“Most of those people were called back almost three weeks ago in preparation for the parks' opening and the Memorial Day season,” Taylor said. “Our parks are seeing extremely heavy visitation, so it was critical that we get (seasonal employees) in to maintain the parks during these busy times.”
Taylor was glad to hear the parks in yellow counties will be reopened.
“I'm happy that we will be able to provide a better service to the people visiting the parks,” he said. “I wish and hope that everyone follows the protocols and (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommendations provided so they can do that safely.”
County's Alameda Park will open
Butler County also announced the reopening of many facets of Alameda Park.
Lance Welliver, director of the county's Parks and Recreation Department, announced that pavilion rentals, Jade's Dog Park and all park restrooms will open May 30.
Summer camp, known as Camp Alameda, will move forward as scheduled June 8.
However, the water park will remain closed pending future recommendations by officials at the CDC or state Department of Health.
All playgrounds will remain closed until further notice, and the Lion's Shelter and sidewalk construction plans are delayed, according to Welliver's announcement.
Vehicle traffic will remain closed in that area of the park, where parking will remain prohibited.
Those visiting the dog park must park near the purple playground, Welliver said.
Summer program seeing sign-ups
Welliver said there are now 70 youths signed up for the park's summer program, which normally attracts 80 to 100 youths each year.
He said some may drop out while more may sign up for summer camp, which occurs in 11 themed weeks during the summer.
Plans to spread groups of youths out in pavilions across the large park are in place to conform to social distancing protocol, even if 100 youths sign up for summer camp, Welliver said.
“Obviously we want to keep the kids and our staff as safe as possible,” he said. “We have our camp counselors hired already and we're looking to bring some more (county) employees on to help out with that.”
Welliver said Camp Alameda is important for children and their parents. He hopes everyone who has felt a little cooped up over the past eight weeks will come out and enjoy the park, which he said is important for physical and mental health.
“It's really important for children to get out and have the opportunity to be in the park and be a part of our activities,” he said. “We're just here to try to provide the opportunity for them to enjoy some different activities and programming that they might not otherwise have a chance to be a part of.”