IDNR to relax restrictions at state parks, asks public to be ‘mindful’ of distancing

Vermilion County

OAKWOOD, Ill. (WCIA) — Memorial Day weekend has arrived.

However, wishful campers must wait another week before they can start pitching tents and roasting weenies at any of Illinois’ state parks.

Governor JB Pritzker announced Wednesday all state parks would reopen May 29, as part of Phase III of his ‘Restore Illinois’ plan. Starting that date, camping and boating would be allowed for groups of 10 or less — boats must be appropriately sized for those groups as well.

Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) Director Colleen Callahan said they have had a “phased-rollout” of their state parks, recreational areas, and fish and wildlife sites. Starting May 29, all sites will be opened.

“What will be new is the campgrounds will be open and the concessions will be open,” she said. “However, the playgrounds, the shelters, and the visitor’s center, if there is one at one of the sites, will not be reopening.”

Some site amenities and facilities, such as a playground or a shelter, might invite a congregation, Callahan said. “It also may be a little more difficult to social distance when you’re talking about a shelter, because that’s where you go to have a gathering.”

She said that when the concessions open, they will still require park visitors to abide by social distancing guidelines.

If there are lines, then we’ll need to be mindful that we should be six feet apart. We should also be sure that we have a face covering available. All the things that we’ve come to now realize are beneficial to prevent the spread of COVID-19 would still be adhered to. While we’re enjoying the great outdoors, and we’re finally able to say ‘welcome back’ or ‘welcome home’ to your favorite site, we still need to be mindful, we need to be respectful, and we need to be disciplined.”

IDNR Director Colleen Callahan

She also advised the public to have a pocket-sized hand sanitizer bottle on hand. If visitors arrive to a park area and find a crowd gathering, Callahan said they should return at a different time.

“Even as we reopen for camping, which will be open for families or households to congregate in that particular area, that will be the same application for the picnic tables, just your group that is going to that particular site; the same for a campfire, just your particular group or area.”

Callahan also said they want to keep their sites open, and “we don’t want to have to close them because a group of people may put them at risk.” She added that Illinois has become a “model” for reopening.

“You would be aware that there are many states that opened some of their sites and facilities, and then had to close them,” Callahan said, “and that’s not been the case in Illinois.”

She added they don’t anticipate problems, but they are prepared if they have overcrowding.

“We are prepared for monitoring, and we are prepared if there are gatherings, to make sure we are able to do that monitoring.”

IDNR Deputy Director Rachel Torbert provided the following guidelines while using state park campgrounds:

  • Individual campsites will be limited to campers within an immediate household and campfires will be limited to those occupying a specific campsite.
  • Picnic tables will be available and should be used by members of the immediate household.
  • Cabins will be open for use by families or members within an immediate household.
  • Campers should follow site-specific guidelines when using shared facilities, including showers.
  • Campers should continue to adhere to social distancing and other public health directives while at state campgrounds.

Callahan also advised that Kickapoo State Park in Oakwood has experienced flooding lately, and that visitors should take precautions for any type of water activity there.

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