State News

Evers orders closure of 40 state parks, forests, recreational areas

The closures came after thousands of individuals visited Wisconsin’s various state parks and recreational areas despite warnings to practice social distancing. 

The closures came after thousands of individuals visited Wisconsin’s various state parks and recreational areas despite warnings to practice social distancing. 

Image By: Courtesy of Justin Hofmann

Gov. Tony Evers directed the Department of Natural Resources Thursday to close 40 state parks, forests and recreational areas to promote social distancing amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

The closures were enacted due “to unprecedented crowds, litter, vandalism and out of an abundance of caution to protect public health and safety and help flatten the curve,” according to a press release. 

“I wanted to keep state parks open for the public to enjoy during this challenging time which is why outdoor activity is listed as an essential activity under the Safer at Home order,” Evers said. “Unfortunately, growing difficulty with ensuring social distancing compliance, dwindling cleaning supplies and mounting trash are some of the challenges faced by our state parks staff. We have to address the growing public health and safety concern and protect Wisconsinites.” 

While recent data shows Wisconsin’s individual curve for the virus flattening, according to Department of Health Secretary Andrea Palm, the DNR reported several state parks “have witnessed record attendance since the outbreak began.”

Last weekend, for example, High Cliff State Park hosted more than 16,000 visitors, 11,000 individuals traveled to Lapham Peak and around 7,600 people visited Devil’s Lake, according to the DNR. 

“We know there are benefits to getting outdoors,” DNR Secretary Preston D. Cole said. “By not doing this would put people’s lives at risk. With the weather warming we are seeing increases in visitors and a myriad of challenges surrounding social distancing. In order to protect the public, this is a necessary step.”

As Evers’ latest measure intends to enforce social distancing in order to preempt the continued transmission of the novel coronavirus, State Rep. Scott Allen, R-Waukesha, rebuked Evers plan and called for resources to be “reallocated to address the demand” of the parks and recreation areas. 

“Gov. Evers is doing his best to create a nanny state,” Allen said in a press release. “Healthy people are by now aware of the risks and smart risk reduction measures like keeping physical distance, sneezing into elbows, etc. Let them live their lives!”

Still, in a state with more than 2,800 confirmed cases and 111 deaths, Palm stressed collective effort is necessary to overcome the virus. 

"We need to remember that each number represents a person, a friend or family member, a neighbor or a coworker and we need to remember that each of us can do our part to keep ourselves and others healthy and safe by staying safer at home and following physical distancing guidelines," Palm said.

The following locations closed on Thursday and will remain closed until further notice:

Northeast Region

High Cliff State Park

Southeast Region

Big Foot Beach State Park, Harrington Beach State Park, Havenwoods State Forest, Kohler-Andrae State Park, Kettle Moraine State Forest Lapham Peak, Loew Lake, Mukwonago River, Northern Unit, Pike Lake, Southern Unit, Lakeshore State Park, and Richard Bong State Recreational Area

South Central Region

Aztalan State Park, Belmont Mound State Park, Blue Mound State Park, Cadiz Springs State Recreational Area, Capital Springs State Recreational Area, Cross Plains State Park, Devil’s Lake State Park, Fenley State Recreational Area, Governor Dodge State Park, Governor Nelson State Park, Lake Kegonsa State Park, Lower Wisconsin Riverway, Mackenzie Center, Mirror Lake State Park, Natural Bridge State Park, Nelson Dewey State Park, New Glarus Woods State Park, Rocky Arbor State Park, Sauk Prairie State Recreational Area, Tower Hill State Park, Wyalusing State Park, Yellowstone Lake State Park, Gibraltar Rock State Natural Area, Pewits Nest State Natural Area, Parfrey’s Glen State Natural Area and Dells of The Wisconsin River State Natural Area

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