On Tuesday, April 7, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy announced the closure of state forests and parks, purportedly to help stop the spread of COVID-19. The action was met with swift and sharp criticism from all sectors of the sportsmen’s community, including the New Jersey Outdoor Alliance (NJOA) and the state’s co-chairs of the New Jersey Angling and Hunting Conservation Caucus, Senator Steve Oroho, Assemblyman Parker Space, and Caucus Member Assemblyman Hal Wirths.
All three republican legislators from the counties of Sussex, Warren and Morris called upon Governor Murphy to reopen the outdoor portions of New Jersey’s state parks and forests.
“Closing the state parks and forests in all parts of the state suspends a vital outlet for many in New Jersey to recreate and maintain safe social distancing and a healthy lifestyle – both mentally and physically,” Oroho said in an official statement on April 8. He added, “The residents in our district have been responsible and compliant with the Governor’s order. Why punish the whole state for a few ‘knuckleheads’?”
The legislators pointed out that New Jersey taxpayers started funding the purchase of lands under the management of what eventually became the New Jersey Division of Parks and Forestry in 1905. “We cannot accept closing State parks and forests that have been paid for by our taxpayers,” said Space, noting specifically how the governor’s announcement just days before the official opening of trout season in New Jersey resulted in “shutting down prime fishing locations that already have been stocked. This makes no sense and is a waste of resources.
“It is bad enough what we have had to endure as a state in the last month, but it is outrageous to close the outdoors,” Wirths said on April 8. “This is making the problem worse by pushing people into close quarters outdoors on streets and sidewalks verses the vast open spaces which our parks provide. People need to practice social distancing and this is counter-intuitive.”
Oroho, Space, and Wirths – with Space as Wantage Township Mayor and Wirths as Sussex County Freeholder Director – vehemently opposed Corzine’s plan to close High Point. In addition, they have been leaders in the fight to keep parks and forests open during state budget shutdowns.
“Governors messing with state parks don’t have a great track record. Jim Florio wanted to close Parvin State Park in Salem County and Jon Corzine wanted to close nine state parks including High Point,” Wirths added.
In response to the governor’s closure, Morris County republican assemblyman Jay Webber also started an online petition calling on the governor to reopen the parks. He followed up in Trenton with an official resolution attempting to reverse the order in the state Assembly. “I’m asking for more information from the Department of Environmental Protection and I’m waiting for them to give me a call,” Webber told Paul Mulshine with the Star Ledger, adding “There’s no rational basis for this closure. That’s the problem.”