Gov. Phil Murphy signed an executive order on April 29 that will permit the reopening of state and county parks throughout New Jersey on Saturday, May 2. But six North Hudson mayors who announced that they would collaborate on a regional approach to gradually reopen municipal parks for residents have stated that as of now, municipal parks will remain closed in the best interest of public health.
As of April 29, Hudson County had 14,596 positive COVID-19 cases, and 758 county residents lost their lives to the virus.
When Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla, West New York Mayor Gabriel Rodriguez, North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco, Union City Mayor Brian Stack, Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner, and Guttenberg Mayor Wayne Zitt agree that it is safe and that the data justifies it, they will reopen parks incrementally and in unison to protect the health and safety of residents and help prevent overcrowding in any municipality’s parks.
“While we are planning for the eventual re-opening of our parks and know how important they are to our residents, we remain concerned about the potential overcrowding and enforcement of social distancing,” said the mayors in a joint statement.
“Out of an abundance of caution, we made the collective decision to keep our municipal parks closed until further notice. We thank Governor Murphy for working with us to allow each city to make these respective decisions and look forward to collaborating with County Executive Tom DeGise and our Freeholders to make final decisions on County parks by the end of the week.”
Jersey City’s mayor, Steven Fulop, reopened five of the city’s largest parks on April 27.
“Parks and open space in densely populated cities are important for both mental and physical health,” tweeted Fulop on April 26 after he announced the gradual reopening of parks. “We are better off having a controlled environment with parks open than pretending people will sit in their homes for eternity with no progress. We need to protect health first but also trust our residents that they’ll make good choices.”
Team effort is needed
Mayor Ravi Bhalla said he has heard from a number of residents asking to have parks reopened, but one of his concerns is that opening city parks without other cities doing the same could unintentionally attract additional residents from surrounding municipalities to Hoboken parks.
“As we consider an eventual reopening of our municipal parks, we do so knowing that north Hudson County is perhaps the most densely populated region in the nation,” said the six North Hudson mayors in a joint statement.
“With this in mind, it is absolutely critical for us, as mayors, to work together to ensure that any reopening of parks is driven by science and data and protects the health and safety of our residents. Acting as one collaborative group in our approach ensures that no park is unintentionally attracting additional residents of surrounding municipalities due to conflicting rules and regulations.”
They said this collaboration will allow their cities “to take a cautious and deliberative approach that prevents the unintended spread of COVID-19, while promoting social distancing to the greatest extent possible.”
“We know how difficult it has been without access to our parks and recognize the importance of getting fresh air as the weather gets nicer,” they continued. “While our parks remain closed until further notice, we look forward to working together to implement a gradual reopening, when it is safe to do so, that prioritizes the health of our residents.”
According to a press release from the City of Hoboken, the six mayors agreed that all playgrounds would remain closed until further notice and stay closed until the last stage of a park re-opening plan.
The North Hudson mayors are currently working with Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise and the Freeholders to determine whether any county parks in their municipalities will reopen.