social distancing

DEEP: You Should Only Visit State Parks Alone Or With People In Your Household

State parks remain open in Connecticut amid the coronavirus pandemic. DEEP is encouraging people to take precautions.

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The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection is urging trail-goers to take precautions amid the coronavirus pandemic.

"Our focus is really on educating people," explained Katie Dykes, commissioner of the DEEP, at a press conference Thursday. "We know that with good social distancing practices people can enjoy time outside in a way that is safe."

All state parks remain open, however DEEP is asking people to only use the parks for "solitary recreation," meaning you should only go to the park by yourself or with people who you are sheltering at home with.

"Going to the park with a neighbor or with a coworker, we are not encouraging that," said Dykes.

Several people who spoke with NBC Connecticut on Thursday at Sleeping Giant State Park were not heeding that warning.

Terry Maher was at the park with his coworker and his coworker's son.

"We are going to try the social distancing as best we can. Obviously I have my friend and his son with me, but obviously a lot of other people have the same great idea," said Maher. "I think you have to be just cautious, but you don't want to let this run your life either."

Ava Mattei is home from college for the semester and was also hiking with her friend. She said the two walked on a less traveled trail and went early in the morning to avoid crowds, but did not have many other concerns.

"It is the outdoors so I really was not too worried about it," said Mattei.

There was a steady flow of visitors at Gay City State Park in Hebron Thursday. Sleeping Giant was filled to capacity for the fourth time in just over a week.

As the state parks continue to experience and uptick in visitors, the conservation police have been fielding complaints of large groups and working on educating people at the parks.

“We see groups, non-family groups starting to congregate and we are asking them, reminding them, about social distancing, make sure you don’t gather," explained Colonel Lewis, an Environmental Conservation officer. "To this date everybody has been very receptive. People are cognizant of the social distancing requirements."

DEEP is asking that people stay about six feet apart on the trails at all times. The state has also shut down all enclosed structures including park pavilions and restrooms. They are also restricting access to some more narrow trails where social distancing would not be possible.

"There is something that is really important about the outdoors for all of us to make sure that we are healthy and we believe very strongly that you can be both healthy and safe at the same time," said Eric Hammerling, the executive director of the Connecticut Forest and Park Association.

Dykes said that the state will continue to monitor visitorship and make changes when needed. She said they are already exploring limiting parking at several popular state parks.

"If we see that we are getting a level of visitorship that is making it difficult for us to manage and ensure proper social distancing is occurring and if we start to see large gathering of folks that is beyond our capacity, we only have so many staff to ensure people are following guidelines, then we will have to take those measures of closure," explained Dykes. "We have to continue to follow these practices so that we can continue to operate the parks safely during this time."

DEEP is also encouraging people to check out less popular state parks to limit crowd size. There are more than 100 in the state. Click here for a full list.

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