Should the Metroparks Stay Open?

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Banners welcomed visitors throughout the quarantine. Restrooms reopened May 9.

We're In This Together

By Dave Zenk and Dr. Jonathon Ross

Published in The Toledo Blade April 1, 2020

The 16 Metroparks in Lucas County are among the few public places where people can go during Gov. Mike DeWine’s stay-at-home order. As parks and public health professionals, we recognize the essential role our Metroparks play in our community, perhaps now more than ever. They provide health benefits such as clean air and water; places to relax and recreate; and a connection to nature that many find calming and comforting.

We ask members of our community to work with us to keep these treasured public places open as safe harbors while we all cope with the ongoing national emergency.

Governor DeWine has mentioned state parks and metroparks as invaluable places for respite and exercise to maintain our physical and emotional well-being during this quarantine period, but added that they are not exempt from the social distancing mandate.

Some popular national, state and regional parks have closed, not because of inherent risks posed by the parks themselves, but for other reasons, including visitors not practicing safe behavior. Here in Lucas County, our agencies will maintain ongoing monitoring and communication so we can make informed decisions that help keep us all safe.

Metroparks Toledo has taken several prudent steps to keep parks open while encouraging safe practices, such as closing restrooms, rental facilities, playgrounds and campgrounds. These measures are in line with decisions by Ohio’s Department of Natural Resources and other park operators across the nation.

According to the National Recreation and Park Association, 75 percent of park and recreation agencies are keeping open their parks and 92 percent are keeping open their trail networks. Nearly all agencies have closed indoor facilities, 71 percent have closed playgrounds and 68 percent have closed permanent restrooms.

We can continue to enjoy the parks if we observe the social distancing rules, wash our hands and stay home if we are sick with cold-like symptoms. Working together as a community, we can keep our parks open.

This time of year, our region is a nationally known destination for fishing and bird watching during the walleye and warbler migrations. To promote safety, park rangers are observing popular places where anglers and birders congregate to remind participants to keep a safe distance from others.

Not surprisingly, our most popular Metropark, Wldwood Preserve, has been overwhelmed with visitors. To alleviate crowding and ensure public safety, starting this week parking will be restricted at this park. Closing other park areas may also be necessary to keep crowds dispersed.

Education will continue to play an essential role. Metroparks is using signage and social media to convey important safety information. Safe practices when visiting parks include going alone or with members of your household, giving others six feet of space, moving to the right when crossing paths with fellow trail users and signaling when passing.

To stay engaged with the community while continuing to provide access to the parks, Metroparks is creating activities for families, including videos, self-directed treasure hunts, take-home kits and a naturalist on call to talk about nature topics.

As this public health crisis continues, our agencies will follow mandates and guidelines from state and federal agencies, but we will not wait for their direction to make decisions in our community’s best interest. Metroparks, in consultation with the Health Board, closed playgrounds nearly a week before the state mandated their closure, and was among the first park agencies to lock restrooms.

We can continue to enjoy the parks if we observe the social distancing rules, wash our hands and stay home if we are sick with cold-like symptoms. Working together as a community, we can keep our parks open.

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Dave Zenk is executive director of Metroparks Toledo. Dr. Johnathon Ross, MD, is president of the Lucas County Board of Health.