On April 29, Governor Murphy signed Executive Order 133 to reopen state and county parks. Since then, there has been a problem in the parks due to the lack of bathroom facilities. In response, the New Jersey Sierra Club sent a letter to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commission Catherine McCabe expressing concern about keeping bathroom facilities closed in state parks.
“Now that state and county parks have reopened, there has been a serious health problem because bathroom facilities are still closed. Instead of just yelling about people doing the wrong thing, the state needs to have a plan to deal with this issue. People exercising or enjoying open space with their families need access to bathrooms, especially if they’ve traveled a distance to get there. We sent a letter asking DEP to reopen bathrooms and to clearly let the public know where there are no bathroom facilities,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “Opening our parks was important for the people of New Jersey, but DEP needs to open restroom facilities like Pennsylvania and New York have done. This is critical not only for people enjoying our parks but to protect public health.”
Bathroom facilities in the parks remain closed, which has already led to people using alternative means. This poses public health and safety problems. People are driving to enjoy state parks with their families, but there are no available bathroom facilities and nearby restaurants and shops are closed as well.
“New Jersey didn’t just open isolated hiking trails, they opened all of the parks. Many of our heavily visited parks like Liberty State Park, Bull’s Island, and Island Beach have been filled with people who need access to bathrooms. It’s one thing if people visit a local park and can just walk home. However, many people are driving distances or spending hours in the parks, and local restaurants and shops are closed. That is why it is important to reopen bathroom facilities, especially in heavily visited parks,” said Tittel. “New York already had some bathrooms open and has now reopened seasonal facilities as well. Pennsylvania is reopening many of their facilities, and both states are clearly posting signs warning visitors if a park has no bathroom access.”
On April 7, 2020 Governor Murphy signed Executive Order 118 directing all state parks and forests to close until further notice. This closure applies to all park lots, grounds, facilities, trails, and playgrounds. His order to reopen county, state parks, and golf courses went into effect on May 2nd.
“Governor Murphy was right to close state parks in early April. It was an important step to handle the public emergency. We need to make sure that people can enjoy our parks safely now that they’re open, even by just opening bathrooms for a limited time like from 10 to 5. We need to have the staff and funding necessary to open bathroom facilities and keep them clean. Our park system has been significantly underfunded for years, and DEP staff levels have dropped by 57% since the mid-1990s,” said Tittel. “We need to invest more in our parks, both to have critical facilities like bathrooms and to have staff. This will help the people of New Jersey safely enjoy the outdoors during the public health emergency.”
New Jersey joins many other states that have reopened state parks. These include Pennsylvania, Hawaii, Maine, Mississippi, Nevada, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont, Illinois, Washington, and Wisconsin.
“We supported Governor Murphy’s decision to close our parks and forests because of the cutbacks. We are the Nation’s oldest and largest conservation group and we felt that it was important to practice social distancing given the severity of the outbreak. Now, as it is getting warmer, it is good that New Jersey is reopening parks for passive recreation and hiking while maintaining social distancing. It is important that the state protects public health and safety by reopening some bathroom facilities. Parks without bathroom access need to be clearly marked, and people should be notified online too,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “These parks belong to all of us. Unless there is access to bathroom facilities, our parks may end up being closed again.”
0512 NJSC Letter to DEP - Concern About Keeping Bathroom Facilities Closed in State Parks