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Officials In Massachusetts Warn: Parks Will Close If Social Distancing Is Not Practiced

  To slow the spread of the coronavirus, new steps are being taken to keep people apart in the outdoors in Massachusetts.

   The emergency order from Gov. Charlie Baker last month banning gatherings of more than 10 people applies to both indoor and outdoor settings and safe distance guidelines are supposed to be adhered to.  But there’s ample evidence, the governor said, that people are not following the rules.

    "We heard from a lot of our colleagues ( last weekend) that people were not abiding by the rules and guidelines associated with gatherings, distance, pretty much everything," Baker said.

   So on Thursday, Baker issued an order to close all coastal beach parking areas managed by the Department of Conservation and Recreation effective at noon Friday.  The beaches will stay open, for now, but people need to keep 6-feet from each other and keep moving – walking, jogging, and bicycling is fine, so is solitary fishing.

   By closing the parking lots, Baker said it’s hoped this will prevent large crowds from congregating.

    " If you can walk to the beach, okay, but you better be sure to abide by the rules of social distancing and recognize and understand that parking yourself at a beach on a blanket at a barbeque with 15 other people is just an incredibly bad idea at this point in time given where we are and what is going on," Baker said.

    To give people more places to go, the DCR announced it would open some seasonal state parks ahead of schedule.  In a press release, officials asked that people visit state parks near their homes and if a park is crowded go someplace else or come back another time.   The agency is also considering reducing the number of parking spaces available at parks that get a lot of visitors.

   Officials in communities across the state have struggled with how much access to give people to outdoor spaces while underscoring the importance of social distancing.

   " We have an important message for our residents: you have to adhere to the safe social distance guidelines if you want our parks to remain open," said Pat Sullivan, the city of Springfield’s parks director.

  "All park permits, all active recreation is canceled, all events canceled through May 4th, " said Sullivan. " We want to keep these resources open so you can walk and do passive recreation, but we will take whatever steps are necessary to keep the residents of the city safe."

   To discourage pickup games, the city removed all basketball hoops.  The gates to tennis courts are locked and there is yellow caution tape wrapped around children’s playgrounds.

          Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno became incensed when he was told that on Monday an estimated 60 people were playing golf on the city’s two municipal courses, despite both being closed.

   "What is wrong with you people?" Sarno said.  " I will blockade those golf courses."

   The city’s Forestry Division was directed to put logs across the entrances to the courses.

     " There will be plenty of time to play baseketball, there will be plenty of time to play golf.,there will be plenty of time to play tennis once we --and we will -- defeat this coronavirus," Sarno said, adding that the people ignoring the social distance guidelines were behaving selfishly.

    " Get it through you thick head. Don't do it,"  Sarno said.

    Boston Mayor Martin Walsh said Thursday he may direct the police to issue fines to people who do not obey the limit on crowd sizes.

The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.
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