South Portland’s city manager pleaded with residents Tuesday night to keep their 6-foot distance from one another at three of the city’s most popular outdoor spaces or risk losing access to them.

Scott Morelli said in a Facebook post that he may be forced to order Willard Beach, Bug Light Park and Hinckley Park closed during the coronavirus outbreak because of complaints about overcrowding.

“I am writing to ask for your help,” Morelli wrote in the post. “I want to be able to keep South Portland’s parks, trails and beaches open for us all to enjoy during this pandemic. I believe being able to get out and exercise and get fresh air is important while we all are sheltered in our homes as much as possible.”

But, Morelli said, the city has been receiving complaints that public spaces are getting overcrowded, especially Willard Beach, Bug Light Park and Hinckley Park. Morelli said the city received “many complaints” Monday night regarding people not practicing proper physical distancing at Willard Beach and Bug Light.

In addition to offering spectacular views of Portland Harbor, Bug Light Park, at 8.78 acres, is home to the historic Portland Breakwater Lighthouse and the Liberty Ship Memorial. Willard Beach is a small, 4-acre sand beach between Fisherman’s Point and Southern Maine Community College, and Hinckley Park is a 40-acre wooded park with hiking trails and a pond off Highland Avenue.

Staff have been monitoring all of those sites during daytime hours, but have not encountered any flagrant violations. But patrols will increase and if people continue to flaunt the physical distancing guidelines, Morelli said he may be forced to take more severe measures that could involve closures.

“I do not want to do this,” Morelli said. “However stopping the spread of this virus and protecting us all, especially our most vulnerable, is the top priority.”

Morelli wants people to stay 6 feet or more away from non-household members and to avoid gathering in groups of 10 or more.

“If the parking lot seems crowded, come back another time,” he said. “Wouldn’t it be great to get through this being one of the few communities that was able to keep our public spaces open to residents and be safe while doing so?”

The city and South Portland School Department also announced Tuesday that they will follow the recommendations of the United States Tennis Association and lock up all tennis and basketball courts because of the risk that the virus might be transmitted through the handling of tennis and basketballs.

On Monday, the city of Portland announced it would close two parking lots adjacent to the popular Back Cove Trail to reduce the number of people using the 3.6-mile path.

Morelli ordered residents on March 27 to stay at home except for permitted activities, a decision that followed a similar move in Portland. Residents are allowed to seek medical care, shop for groceries, pick up prescriptions and drive to their jobs in essentials services. They may also leave their homes to exercise, under the city order.

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