Franklin closes its park as state and county parks also shut down

Franklin. The state has closed all state and county parks because people have taken to congregating on them, in violation of social distancing orders. Gov. Phil Murphy said local jurisdictions may impose tighter restrictions on municipal parks that the state order does. In Vernon, the mayor is using an authority just granted by the state to ban short-term rentals.

07 Apr 2020 | 06:00

New Jersey's Department of State Parks, Forests and Historic Sites on April 7 ordered all state and county parks closed because of problems with people congregating in them.

On Tuesday, Franklin Township decided to close its town park too.

In conjunction with the governor's order, said the township's web page (franklintwpnj.org), all Franklin Township municipal parks and open space preserves will be closed indefinitely starting at sundown on Tuesday, April 7.

The Department of Public Works will post signs at the entrances to all parks and open space preserves, and police officers will be actively enforcing the order.

Township officials urge residents to follow the stay-at-home order and only go out to seek essential services.

Vernon Mayor Howard Burrell said police are monitoring Maple Grange Park and the two key Appalachian Trail entry points in Vernon -- the boardwalk section off of Route 517 and the “Stairway to Heaven” entry point off of Route 94. However, the Appalachian Trail is now off limits where it enters a state or county park.

"The problem with the boardwalk section of the Appalachian Trail is that the boardwalk is only four feet wide, and therefore, does not offer the opportunity for individuals to practice proper social distancing while walking the boardwalk," Burrell said.

Gov. Phil Murphy said local jurisdictions may impose tighter restrictions on municipal parks that the state order does. For the latest updates on state parks and forests, visit njparksandforests.org.

Exercise close to home

Murphy said he encourages New Jersey residents to exercise as long as they do it close to home.

"Walking, jogging, or riding a bike should be done in your neighborhood or your local park," said Murphy. "Do not travel to a park in another town."

He said shore communities have reported people trying to temporarily relocate there from areas hard-hit by the coronavirus spread, but those communities can lack the health care infrastructure that a surge in patients would require.

He urged state residents to remain in their primary residences during the COVID-19 crisis.

"To prevent the spread of COVID-19 and save lives, all residents have been directed to stay at home with limited exceptions, and all gatherings of individuals have been prohibited."

Short-term rentals urged to close

New powers for New Jersey's local and county governments to restrict short-term rentals took effect Sunday night, part of the effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Vernon Mayor Burrell said he has issued an order that restricts any “hotel, motel, guest house, or private residence, or parts thereof” in Vernon from accepting “new transient guests or seasonal tenants” after 4 p.m. on April 6 until further notice.

"This restricts Airbnb, other online marketplaces, and any other organization or individual from arranging or offering short-term rental lodging in Vernon Township," Burrell said. "I issued this order out of the concerns about an influx of new visitors to our town during the current public health emergency. Although Vernon Township ordinarily welcomes all visitors, at this time we must take all available steps to enforce social distancing recommendations and limit nonessential travel to our town."

In normal times, visitors are welcome in Vernon, Burrell said. :ocal merchants see their businesses increase when temporary residents are in town.

Burrell said many residents have complained to him about visitors from areas labeled as “coronavirus hotspots" frequenting local stores and parks. They want the mayor to ask those who have already occupied their second homes in Vernon to leave, he said.

"My response to my constituents has been to inform them of the fact that as a mayor, I have no authority to prevent individuals, whose primary residents are in New York City or other locations, from coming to Vernon and living in second homes that they own," Burrell said. "The governor of New Jersey has 'urged' individuals to stay at their primary residents, and has specifically urged them not to leave their primary residents for the purpose of moving into those second homes/summer/temporary residences that they own in places like Vernon or in New Jersey shore towns."

The additional local authority conferred by the state does not extend to people housed under a state-led shelter effort, to those in temporary residence under emergency or other housing assistance, or to health care workers staying somewhere on a temporary basis.