The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), as well as the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC), have taken measures to control the number of people using recreational areas.
By Ronni Newton
As the weather warms but restrictions on activities remain in place amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Connecticut residents have been flocking to state parks and, in the West Hartford area, to the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC) reservoir properties off Farmington Avenue and Route 44.
At the same time, the number of positive confirmed cases of COVID-19 continue to rise. Gov. Ned Lamont’s office reported late Sunday that an additional 399 cases in the state, for a total of 5,675. West Hartford’s total number of confirmed positive cases remains at 36.
“To date, more than 23,270 tests have been conducted in Connecticut among both state and private laboratories. Approximately 1,142 patients have been hospitalized. The total statewide total number of COVID-19 associated fatalities is 189,” the governor’s office state in an email.
Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) officials said Sunday that social distancing guidelines in the state’s parks and forests must be followed to help combat the spread of COVID-19 – a declaration accompanied by a stern warning of “do it or else” – indicating that the agency may be forced to close parks.
Lee Sawyer, chief of staff to DEEP Commissioner Katie Dykes, said an email Sunday: “If people do not heed common sense advice, parks close. That decision is made daily.”
According to Sawyer, DEEP 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.
The MDC has been closing off access when parking lots fill up at the Farmington Avenue and Route 44 (Reservoir No. 6) properties and has stated the following on its website: “Per the CT Department of Public Health, anyone using public watershed recreational areas in CT, such as MDC’s West Hartford Reservoir and Reservoir #6 in Bloomfield, must maintain social distancing of 6 [feet] or more when walking, hiking, jogging or biking.”
West Hartford Mayor Shari Cantor, in her Everbridge message to the community Friday night regarding the closure of tracks and turf fields, also issued a notice about avoiding group activity on all fields. She added, “This also applies to the MDC properties in our town. If the MDC parking lots are full, please return at another time. Do not park on the streets or lawns – you will be ticketed for non-compliance.”
On Sunday, the parking lot reached capacity at the MDC’s Farmington Avenue property, but people did not heed the warning and parked along the road.
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.
DEEP is prohibiting picnicking, and groups of more than five people – even if they are all part of the same family – are being required to split up to enforce physical distancing rules.
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.
Portions of an article by Jan Ellen Spiegel, CTMirror.org have been included in this article.
Reprinted with permission of The Connecticut Mirror. The author can be reached at [email protected].
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