Vermont State Parks Open A Month Late, With Pandemic, Safety In Mind
Vermont opened up its state parks Friday, about a month later than originally scheduled. The COVID-19 pandemic forced the delay, and while the state did decide to open up the parks, things will look very different this year.
Vermont State Park staff typically show up in April to clean from winter and prepare the parks for the upcoming season. But over the past few months, state park administrators had to decide if the parks could open, and what changes would have to be made to keep everyone safe as the pandemic drags on.
On Thursday, Camp Plymouth State Park Manager Tiffany Soukup filled a hand sanitizer dispenser on the day before the park opened for the 2020 season.
“We have years of experience under our belts, and nothing can prepare any of us for exactly what this season, was, and is, going to be like," Soukup said.
Vermont Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore said the past month or so was spent looking at every aspect of what it takes to run a park, with an eye toward preventing the spread of the new coronavirus.
Boat rentals and playgrounds had to be shut down this year because of the high probability of spreading the virus among commonly shared equipment.
“This is a really significant undertaking," Moore said. "It’s everything we usually do and then some. I don’t know that I would say it’s twice what we usually do. But it’s a notable increase in the steps needed to take to be prepared to welcome folks back to Vermont State Parks. "
Vermont is only opening about 75% of its overnight campsites this year to make sure there is enough room in the bathrooms and showers for social distancing.
Picnic tables will be available at campsites, and they will be sanitized when campers leave. But all of the day use picnic tables in the Vermont's 55 state parks have been removed for the season.
At Camp Plymouth State Park, about 100 tables are stacked up, not for use.
“To just look at so many things that we couldn’t do this year, or that were felt that it was most appropriate to not do them this year, that was a huge sadness," said Tiffany Soukup, the park manager. "A lot of people have had disappointment, frustration over what we are not going to do. But in the same breath, there’s a lot of excitement of what we can do."
The Vermont State Park system has an approximately $11 million budget, and Julie Moore, the ANR Secretary, says the system usually just about breaks even. She added she expects to go a little deeper into the red this year because concession sales and boat rentals have been suspended, and extra time and cleaning materials will be needed to maintain the park during the pandemic.
But, Moore says, it is impossible to know just how this season will shake out. While some out-of-state visitors had to cancel their reservations, more Vermonters may choose to stay close to home and visit the parks.
Last year a little more than 1 million people visited the parks, and reservations have been very strong so far.
Masks will be encouraged at all of the state parks, and park staff will do their best to make sure groups are maintaining their social distance. Bathrooms, railings, and all common surfaces will be sanitized throughout the day. But Soukup says the staff will not be heavily policing the visitors.
“We’re going to all try to do our best," she said. "Hopefully ... we can all just try to have the best attitude together. Because, you know, living in these times we’re in, it’s not something any of us are used to. So, you know, patience, kindness, thoughtfulness, crossing bridges when we need to. We just want to have our best season that we can, and welcome everyone who wishes to join us."