Limiting exposure: DNREC to cap visitors to state parks, wildlife areas

This sign was recently installed by the Delaware Department of Natural Rescources and Environmental Control at Cape Henlopen State Park in Lewes, warning visitors that limitations will be set on the number of guests to safely be allowed at the park. (Submitted photo)

DOVER — With Delawareans already three weeks into Gov. John Carney’s stay-at-home order due to the coronavirus pandemic and the weather beginning to warm up, many people are itching to get out of the house and enjoy some fresh air for a change.

The problem is it seems too many people have been doing that all at once inside Delaware State Parks and its wildlife areas, putting social distancing in jeopardy, according to Shawn Garvin, secretary of the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.

That is why DNREC officials announced on Thursday that they will take steps, when necessary, to limit the numbers of visitors within state parks and wildlife areas following recent crowding and public health concerns, particularly at Delaware’s beach state parks. Public beaches statewide are closed under the state of emergency except for exercise, dog-walking and some vehicle surf-fishing under restricted conditions.

Beginning today, administrators of parks and wildlife areas will begin to limit vehicle access at times when visitor usage is observed to be a cause of crowding and preventing safe social distancing. The vehicle limits will be implemented by DNREC’s Natural Resources Police.

“As the days have gotten nicer and the stay-at-home period endures, we have been increasingly concerned to see the behavior of some visitors to our state parks and wildlife areas, with full parking lots and increasingly crowded trails,” said Secretary Garvin in a phone interview Thursday. “Limiting the number of people when we see too much crowding will allow us to keep these public spaces open for individuals who need a break and fresh air, but to keep everyone safe.”

The state parks will be limited on a case-by-case basis, as some are more popular – and bigger, with easier access – than others.

“We are having some crowding issues more at some parks than we are at others,” said Secretary Garvin. “We will be working with the superintendents of the parks on the issue of crowding. We’re seeing different things statewide as we continue to have the parks remain open.

“We have been running into people not necessarily following the criteria set by the governor during his state of emergency declaration and now we need to take steps to protect folks from each other. As the weather gets nicer and nicer, we’re seeing an uptick in crowding at our parks.”

Nikki Lavoie, spokesperson for DNREC, said that during this national health crisis the public should limit their visits to the parks for when they need a break or fresh air and to avoid peak times, which is often mid-afternoon. She added that people should stay for shorter times so others have an opportunity to use the public spaces and trails.

“We understand this period is a difficult time,” Ms. Lavoie said. “For this reason, Delawareans may continue to experience our parks and wildlife areas, to embrace nature and stay active, but they must maintain social distance from each other and follow other requirements.

“We will be constantly assessing the visitation and conditions in the parks and wildlife areas. We will act accordingly in the interest of public health.”

DNREC provided the following tips and guidance for those visiting parks and wildlife areas during the COVID-19 outbreak:

• While parks and wildlife areas are large, many visitors use the same amenities. Visitors should try to spread out from others within these areas.

• Bathrooms remain closed in all parks and wildlife areas and at boat ramps.

• Out-of-state visitors must observe a 14-day quarantine before entering a park or wildlife area.

• Responsible social distancing practices should always be maintained, even while outside.

• All currently allowable activities are subject to change.

These provisions all come under the authority of Gov. John Carney’s state of emergency declarations and have the force and effect of law. Any failure to comply with the provisions contained in a declaration of a state of emergency or any modification to a state of emergency can constitute a criminal offense.

Currently, the parks plan to limit the number of visitors by observation, however, Secretary Garvin didn’t discount eventually putting a limit on visitors to parks if guests aren’t following social-distancing guidelines.

“It depends on if we have a park that is showing that we’re just getting sheer large (numbers) of visitors at one time,” said Secretary Garvin. “Eventually, we may count numbers and cap it off, but right now we are utilizing many visuals and are taking each park on a case-by-case basis. Some parks have very distinct entrances and large parking lots, while others are smaller.”

DNREC said that if anyone is concerned about an individual or group in any state park or wildlife area they may contact DNREC’s Natural Resources Police via Tip411, DNREC’s smartphone app, or by calling the 24-hour DNREC Dispatch Center at 302-739-4580. Tip411 allows the public to easily report concerns. The app is available for free download by searching DENRP via the Google Play Store or the iTunes App Store.

For the latest information on COVID-19 in Delaware, visit de.gov/coronavirus.


Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

Have a question, tip, or resources about the coronavirus pandemic? Submit it to our newsroom and we’ll do what we can to provide answers.