Very few people are questioning the governor’s sincerity. In general, he’s gotten high marks for his handling of the coronavirus crisis. But his executive order this week closing all state and county parks has managed to unite progressives and conservatives in opposition to the new rules.
“I just think it was an avenue for people to release their tensions and their stress. I’m concerned. I’ve asked the governor to reconsider it. I think it’s a mistake. I give him high marks on what he’s been doing. I think this is a mistake,” Sen. Kip Bateman said.
The cries of protest are coming from the state’s urban centers, like Jersey City, where all city parks have been closed for weeks and the 1,300-acre Liberty State Park has become the go-to spot for mostly urban Hudson County residents looking to breathe some fresh air.
“I’ve been coming to this park since this crisis hit and I have not seen it over crowded like other parks or other places because there’s so wide and vast and there’s so many nooks and crannies in it,” said Jersey City resident Dyanne Robinson.
Bateman and others suggest that the governor’s order, while well-intentioned, could have the opposite effect, forcing people onto city streets.
“If you live in a densely-populated area, you live in a city, you’re not spaced out and if you go outside then you’re on the sidewalks next to everybody,” said Greg Remaud, CEO of the New York/New Jersey Baykeeper.
Mandy Edgecombe is a historian, open space advocate and a Liberty State Park regular, even before the coronavirus crisis. She agrees with closing off the playgrounds and picnic areas in the park, but says there’s room for the governor to rethink his decision.
“It was an incredibly lazy decision,” she said. “Can there be reminders, even someone with a megaphone reminding people, ‘If you’re on your bike, stay on the trail, but if you’re walking can you spread out on the grass.’ And those people, I feel like if they’re in their vehicles, too, that they’re protected and they’re safe.”
Murphy on Thursday acknowledged the pushback but stuck to his guns, insisting that spacious state parks would not remain so roomy otherwise.
“The entirety of the rest of the state of New Jersey will be on your doorstep, in your park and/or beyond New Jersey, folks from out of state and in the region who will want to be in the park,” the governor said.
The suggestion has been made that some suddenly empty city streets could be converted into pedestrian boulevards, providing safe open spaces closer to home. But decisions like that will have to be left to individual municipalities. The state, said the governor, has made up its mind.