Parks have been one of the few places people can go during stay-at-home orders. WFYI and our reporting partners at IPB News and Side Effects Public Media received questions about city and state parks and how people are able to use them. We went looking for answers.
On a bright, breezy day at Fort Benjamin Harrison State Park in Indianapolis, the first thing you notices is a good number of cars zipping through the gates. One bonus at state parks, the entrance fees are waived for now.
From city parks to state parks, the rules are changing weekly and modifications are being made because there have been concerns about park usage, mainly overcrowding.
So where can we go?
Fort Benjamin Harrison is run by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. State parks are open for day-use -- including hiking, biking on paved trails, boating, fishing, birding and geocaching.
Three weeks ago, DNR closed campgrounds in response to heavy out of town traffic.
Trails and greenspaces at Indy Parks are open. All family centers, indoor facilities, shelters, tennis courts, basketball courts, playgrounds and golf courses are closed.
Why are some trails and parks closed?
Indy Parks says their 135 miles of trails are open. At Fort Ben, a DNR property, most trails were open but two were closed the day we were there. Other state properties have closed so called "high impact trails." Most of the closures at Turkey Run, Shades and Clifty Falls state parks are trails where it is hard to social distance.
Indy Parks' Eagle Creek Park recently closed its gate to vehicle traffic. You will have to walk or bike in, or have someone drop you off. Don't park your car outside though, it might get towed. You can walk in the open spaces. You can hike on open trails.
Trail etiquette says people should stay six feet apart and if someone is trying to pass, get off the path and out of the way to the best of your ability. Also, warn people if you are going to pass. Same goes for sidewalks.
Can we walk in the neighborhood?
Yes, municipalities have said this is fine and encouraged but to keep social distancing six feet apart.
Can I mow the grass and do yard work?
You can be outside working in the yard as much as you like.
Can I go fishing?
DNR properties still allow fishing and boating, but there are reports of some river access areas being closed. You’ll of course have to use all of your own equipment.
What about playgrounds?
Playgrounds at city parks have been closed for weeks, but we received questions about playgrounds at local churches and schools. Can kids play on these? No. If the place is closed the playground is closed. The virus can survive on these surface areas.
Of course you can break the rules pretty easily, and we’ve heard from Indy Parks that this is happening. A few weeks ago Indy Parks closed all basketball and other types of courts. Soon after, people were removing the boards that blocked the balls to play.
What's up with golf courses?
This has raised questions in Marion County because some of the doughnut counties are allowing golfing and tennis, with restrictions. The issue was posed to Marion County Public Health Director Virginia Caine recently at a City-County Council meeting. Caine said decisions were being constantly reviewed and could be altered. Especially as parts of the economy start to open back up.
What if the park is packed?
Indy Parks Director Linda Broadfoot says a good rule to follow is if the parking lot is crowded, try another of the city’s more than 200 parks. Unfortunately, many of those do not have trails but they provide greenspace. She suggests spreading out a blanket for a picnic lunch instead of sitting at a picnic table.
Eagle Creek Park closed it's gates after a recent weekend saw about 4,000 cars drive into the park -- way more than normal -- making it difficult to manage distancing restrictions.
We’ve also received questions about when campgrounds will open again, will the pools open or are summer camps still on? Those questions are still unanswered.
For the most part, people are encouraged to follow CDC guidelines, maintain social distancing, wear a mask, don’t go to a park if you feel sick, and be prepared for limited or no access to restrooms.