Phil Murphy says he’s happy most New Jerseyans are following the rules and sticking together to “break the back of this damn virus.”
And make no mistake, binding together a state with many distinct government entities is not easy.
But in one area, there is growing inconsistency between the state government and many of its towns and counties. And it involves – of all things – fishing.
That’s right, fishing.
Catherine McCabe, the state’s DEP commissioner, appeared at Tuesday’s daily coronavirus briefing to announce that trout season in New Jersey will begin tomorrow – about a week earlier than usual.
In a folksy presentation that seemed to belie the severity of the pandemic, McCabe talked about the solo and theraputic benefits of wading into a stream rod in hand. Social distancing of at least six feet must be maintained, but that’s no problem because it should make for better fishing, she said.
But here’s the dilemma.
The state is keeping all state parks, forests and streams open for recreation even while many towns and counties are closing them. Just in the last week, parks have been shut down in Bergen County, Ocean County, Paterson and Hoboken. And those are only the large entities.
Both McCabe and Murphy touched on the main reason state parks and forests are still open – people can’t stay cooped up in their homes literally 24 hours a day. They need to go outside for both physical and psychological reasons.
Closing parks in many ways can be counterproductive because it can deprive people of that needed release.
Of course, it’s not business as usual.
McCabe said that besides fishing, state parks are open for walking, jogging and biking. Ball games are out and playgrounds are closed.
Moreover, rest rooms are closed.
During the question period, it was observed that in locales where parks are closed, more people end up walking or jogging in the road, which can be problematic even during a time of reduced traffic.
A bigger question is whether the state will take action to supersede park closings by local governments. The governor often has pointed out that if push comes to shove, ultimate power rests with the state.
Murphy tossed this issue over to his chief counsel, Matt Platkin, who said that the governor’s executive shut-down order allows local governments to control their own parks.
OK, but will the governor – given his feelings on parks and the DEP commissioner’s ode to fishing – move to change that?