Quarantine-weary visitors converged on Wawayanda State Park in Vernon and West Milford on Saturday. The capacious parking lot overflowed, despite the governor's 50 percent cap on the number of cars allowed at state park parking lots. Cars lined the access road off Warwick Turnpike.
Anglers fished Wawayanda Lake, while hikers set off on the park's many trails, including the Appalachian Trail, which transects the park. Some visitors relaxed on benches, just taking in the fresh air, sunshine, and verdant scenery.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced the change at a news conference on the COVID-19 outbreak. The new executive order came amid intense pressure to reopen parks, including from political rivals as well as allies. Murphy acknowledged the pressure campaign to reopen parks but said it played no part in his decision.
"Your interventions to me did not matter one bit," he said. Instead, he said he was considering some positive data surrounding the outbreak, including the declining hospitalization rate.
Murphy ordered parks closed April 7 after he said there were too many people congregating and failing to socially distance. Golf courses were considered nonessential businesses, which have been closed since March.
There will be a few conditions placed on reopening: parking lots at parks and courses must be capped at 50 percent capacity; playgrounds and restrooms at parks will be closed; picnics and other gatherings will not be permitted, according to the governor.
"I'm happy at one level that we're able to take this step, but we will enforce this," said Murphy.
“I have heard endlessly from people who have wanted to enjoy the land they pay taxes to enjoy. I am happy that parks, forests and golf courses will reopen. It will be a boon to mental and physical health and should save many jobs that were at risk of being lost for good.” --NJ Assemblyman Hal Wirths