TRENTON, NJ - Gov. Phil Murphy went online late this morning and tweeted that he has decided to allow all state and county parks and golf courses to re-open on May 2.
Social distancing will continue to be mandated, according to his post.
On April 21, the Somerset County Park Commission announced the cancellation of all events, programs and activities at county locations through the end of 2020, including the 4th of July fireworks at North Branch Park and the Summer Concert Series at Duke Island Park.
Mark Caliguire, president of the Somerset County Park Commission, said the parks system had suffered $1.5 million in lost revenue from greens fees at its five golf courses.
"The people have spoken," said Somerset County Freeholder Brian Gallagher, shortly after the news began to spread on social media Wednesday.
On Tuesday night, the Hillsborough Township Committee passed a resolution that asked Murphy to permit the re-opening of the Sourland Preserve.
Lawmakers throughout New Jersey, including the Somerset County Freeholders and state Sen. Kip Bateman, R-16th, have been pushing Murphy to rescind his executive order, effective April 7th, that required the closure of all state and county parks in an effort to minimize social contract and impede the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19)..
It is up to the discretion of local municipalities whether to keep their local parks open; Hillsborough's local parks remain open, with social distancing rules in effect.
The 4,000-acre Sourland Mountain Preserve, located in the southwest corner of the township bordering Montgomery, offers passive recreation, rock climbing and five hiking trails.
"Our residents have been doing a great job at social distancing in our parks; why can't we open up the rest of our parks if our residents have been doing the right thing," said Mayor Doug Tomson just hours before Murphy made his announcement on Twitter.
Nearby is Mountainview Park on Mountainview Road, operated jointly with the Somerset County Park Commission. It is closed, but two local parks in the area - Otto’s Farm Park and Merdinger Memorial Trail - remain open. .
"The ability for one to catch corona in an open air environment is almost infinitesimal," Tomson said.
"We're not doing this on a whim," he added. "This is for the health of our residents and that is something we are concerned about."
Following is the full text of the resolution:
Resolution Requesting Governor Murphy To Permit The Opening Of The Sourland Mountain Preserve
WHEREAS, the Sourland Mountain Preserve is a 4,000 acre preserve in Somerset County, owned and maintained by the Somerset County Parks Commission; and
WHEREAS, the Sourland Mountain Preserve provides passive recreational opportunities in an undisturbed natural setting, with over 5 miles of trails for hiking and mountain biking; and
WHEREAS, a majority of the preserve is within Hillsborough Township borders; and
WHEREAS, passive recreation provides many health benefits, such activities such as walking, hiking, mountain biking yielding fewer doctor office visits, maintaining lower body fat, blood pressure and cholesterol levels for participants; and
WHEREAS, it is even more so significant to provide outdoor opportunities for our residents during COVID-19 pandemic, in which many residents, including children are confined to their homes; and
WHEREAS, as a result of the extensive trail system of the preserve, individuals would be able to benefit from the enjoyment of passive recreation while still being able to maintain appropriate and safe social distancing; and
WHEREAS, Hillsborough Township kept municipal parks open with positive results for visitors who have been respectful of social distancing, including Otto’s Farm Park and Merdinger Memorial Trail.
NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, by the Mayor and Hillsborough Township Committee that it is requested of Governor Murphy to lift the closure restriction on the Sourland Mountain Preserve for the benefit of passive recreation during these unsettling times.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that by lifting this closure restriction on the nearly 4,000 acre preserve for the passive recreation enjoyment of our citizens, while practicing social distancing on the vast trail system the preserve has to offer, citizens would be afforded an opportunity to enjoy the benefits of passive recreation on their overall health and well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic.