Views like this at Richard Bong State Recreational Area near Burlington will be off limits in the near future because the state park one of 40 closed by order of Gov. Tony Evers in an attempt to prevent further spread of COVID-19. (Department of Natural Resources photo)

Governor orders 40 parks to close to promote social distancing

At a time when outdoor recreation is needed more than ever, 40 of Wisconsin state parks, forests and recreational areas have been closed – victims of their own popularity.

Gov. Tony Evers on Thursday directed the Department of Natural Resources to close the selected state parks to protect the health and safety of residents.

“Due to unprecedented crowds, litter, vandalism and out of an abundance of caution to protect public health and safety and help flatten the curve, (the parks) will close at the end of the day Thursday, April 9, and will remain closed … until further notice,” officials from the governor’s office said in a news release.

The closings include three popular recreation destinations in the Southern Lakes Area: Big Foot Beach State Park in Lake Geneva, Bong State Recreational Area in Kansasville, and the Kettle Moraine State Forest-Southern Unit near Whitewater. Most of the parks slated to close are in the populous southern part of the state.

As the weather improved in recent weeks and the weight of the governor’s Stay-at-Home order increased, a growing number of people sought relief by visiting the state-owned parks and recreation areas. The state waived fees, closed offices, visitors centers and non-essential buildings to minimize the potential spread of COVID-19.

However, Evers said the situation reached a point where public safety in the parks and surrounding communities took precedence over keeping the parks open

“I wanted to keep state parks open for the public to enjoy during this challenging time which is why outdoor activity is listed as an essential activity under the Safer-at-Home order,” Evers said. “Unfortunately, growing difficulty with ensuring social distancing compliance, dwindling cleaning supplies and mounting trash are some of the challenges faced by our state parks staff.

“We have to address the growing public health and safety concern and protect Wisconsinites.”

The governor’s office warned that additional parks may be closed if people ignore social distancing guidelines or vandalize the parks.

State Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Mt. Pleasant, who represents the district that includes Bong Recreational Area, said he “strongly objects” to the order. He noted that Bong had nearly 4,000 visitors over the first weekend in April.

“While the governor cited littering and vandalism as reasons for the closure, state park workers and staff are still working and should be monitoring this activity,” Wanggaard said in a newsletter to constituents. “Cleaning up and keeping a closer eye on the parks should be part of their duties if it isn’t already. At a time where the governor wants us to stay home, closing the parks is the wrong move.”

The list of properties slated to close at the end of the day Thursday includes:

Southeast Region: Big Foot Beach State Park, Harrington Beach State Park, Havenwoods State Forest, Kohler-Andrae State Park, Kettle Moraine State Forest Lapham Peak, Loew Lake, Mukwonago River, Northern Unit, Pike Lake, Southern Unit, Lakeshore State Park, and Richard Bong State Recreational Area

South Central Region: Aztalan State Park, Belmont Mound State Park, Blue Mound State Park, Cadiz Springs State Recreational Area, Capital Springs State Recreational Area, Cross Plains State Park, Devil’s Lake State Park, Fenley State Recreational Area, Governor Dodge State Park, Governor Nelson State Park, Lake Kegonsa State Park, Lower Wisconsin Riverway, Mackenzie Center, Mirror Lake State Park, Natural Bridge State Park, Nelson Dewey State Park, New Glarus Woods State Park, Rocky Arbor State Park, Sauk Prairie State Recreational Area, Tower Hill State Park, Wyalusing State Park, Yellowstone Lake State Park, Gibraltar Rock State Natural Area, Pewits Nest State Natural Area, Parfrey’s Glen State Natural Area and Dells of The Wisconsin River State Natural Area

Northeast Region: High Cliff State Park


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