More than 30 St. Louis County parks are now open after being shuttered by coronavirus concerns.
St. Louis County Executive Sam Page announced at a press conference Tuesday at Creve Coeur Park that 33 parks are now open to the public. But officials stressed that some park amenities remain closed — and people need to follow social distancing guidelines.
“We know that our parks are a relief valve for our community,” Page said. “Our kids can only watch so much Netflix or adults can only do so much homeschooling and parenting and education — and so many Zoom videos for their work product. But we want to thank our residents for staying diligent. We understand what we need to do in the direction to contain the spread of virus in our community.”
As of 10:30 this morning, select St. Louis County Parks and trails have reopened (map below). Please practice social distancing and follow signage displayed. #KnowStlCo https://t.co/nAKIJTbuyh pic.twitter.com/Rjl2INKjKJ
— St. Louis County DPH (@StLCountyDOH) April 28, 2020
Page closed parks in early April, pointing to how large crowds were congregating as the weather got nicer.
Under the reopening, restrooms, indoor facilities, sports fields, shelters and playgrounds will remain closed. Park rangers will be on hand to remind people to maintain social distancing and not gather in groups. He also said 20 smaller parks will remain closed.
“If you’re sick, stay home. If you’re in our parks, keep moving, walk, ride your bike, run, and stay six feet apart from everyone else unless it’s someone that you live with,” Page said. “If you come to a park and it's crowded, consider coming back later or visiting a different park. We must avoid crowded parks. Crowded parks will become closed parks.”
Page also said that 31 parks will have one way loops on walking paths to help people comply with social distancing.
Page also mentioned that Lone Elk Park will be drive-thru only. The western St. Louis County park is a popular destination for families who want to spot roving bands of elk and bison.
While the county ended up closing its parks, the city of St. Louis chose to keep them open. St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson noted that amenities like playgrounds and sports facilities were closed.
Some detractors of Page’s decision to close parks, like Councilman Tim Fitch, R-St. Louis County, contended the move simply shifted people away from county parks that were closed to ones that were open.
“This is something I think was a knee-jerk reaction,” Fitch said Tuesday. “After it happened, and [Page] saw that the other parks in the area did not close, he couldn't take it back. I understand the politics of that. So I am at least glad to see that he is reopening.”
Fitch added that the way Page opened up parks dovetails with what the council’s Republican members wanted.
“I'm happy that the parks are reopened as of today,” he said. "I still feel like they should have never been closed in the first place.”
Page said at the time of his decision, some parks were becoming overcrowded. He also noted that three park rangers were diagnosed with coronavirus, but have since recovered.
“These are all tough decisions. None of them are clear,” Page said. “We learn something new about [COVID-19] every day. And the past month, we've learned that symptoms people can have are different than what we first thought, and we'll continue to learn more about it. But I think the initial closing was necessary. It took us a couple of weeks to get our message together, to get our community used to and to be respectful of the importance of social distancing and what's at stake.”
St. Louis County’s restrictions on businesses and crowd sizes remain in effect as Gov. Mike Parson prepares to open most of the rest of the state’s businesses on Monday.
“I can only say what I said before that we'll know more in a week or so,” Page said. “And that the variables that we need to make an educated and thoughtful and responsible decision about relaxing our safety orders — those variables haven't been established yet.”
Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum
Send questions and comments about this story to email@example.com