Following similar action by other states across the country, Maine will close some of its state parks in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry announced Thursday.

Maine has 48 state parks and historic sites, and starting Friday it will close until April 8 the 10 coastal parks in southern Maine and the midcoast: Reid State Park, Popham Beach State Park, Fort Popham, Fort Baldwin, Kettle Cove State Park, Two Lights State Park, Crescent Beach State Park, Scarborough Beach State Park, Ferry Beach State Park and Mackworth Island. There are other popular state parks farther up the Maine coast, such as Camden Hills State Park and Cobscook Bay State Park.

But, the department reported, the closure could be extended depending on the “the spread of the potentially deadly virus.”

The announcement comes in the wake of all state parks closing in Florida, Oregon and Washington state – one of the first states to be hit with the coronavirus outbreak. In addition,  California closed some of its state parks in response to the pandemic.

People walk onto the beach at Crescent State Beach Park on Thursday, March 26, 2020. The Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry’s Bureau of Park’s and Lands announced today that select coastal state parks would be closing at midnight to help slow the spread of coronavirus. Staff photo by Derek Davis

The department, with support from Gov. Janet Mills, announced it was taking the action to protect the health and safety of Maine people from the threat of COVID-19 because “overcrowding in the past few weeks has made it increasingly difficult for the public to implement appropriate physical distancing.”

It will monitor other parks inland. Last weekend there was heavy usage recorded at Sebago Lake State Park, Range Pond State Park, Wolfe’s Neck State Park and Bradbury Mountain State Park, according to the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands, which oversees the state park system. The bureau is advising park visitors to seek alternative places to walk and hike outside – such as land trusts, local neighborhoods, Maine state wildlife management areas and Maine state public reserve lands.

Rex Turner, the bureau’s outdoors recreation planner, said a large part of the concern among land managers across the country right now is the “community transmission” of the disease possible in public bathrooms and outhouses, or privies.

Courtney and Michael Leary of South Portland spend time with their daughter Wellie, 3 months, at Kettle Cove State Park on Thursday, March 26, 2020. Staff photo by Derek Davis

Currently, most Maine state parks with bathrooms (the ones with running water) are closed until the traditional spring opening of the state parks in April or May, Turner said. However, he added, many still have outhouses open in the winter that can also transmit the disease.

“The big thing is, people need to be prepared to not have those facilities,” Turner said last week. “This is the time of year when parks are not fully staffed. Certainly, we are aware and sensitive to the hygiene issues. That is one pinch point: Where there are a number of people coming through – if everyone uses the bathroom there is a high risk of contact. It is smart to be prepared – and take care of these things at home. It seems like a common-sense thing right now.”

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