MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Tennessee State Parks are ready to welcome back visitors nearly three weeks after closing down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Friday, 53 of the 56 state parks will reopen according to Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation Deputy Commissioner Jim Bryson. All state parks in West Tennessee are among the ones to reopen.
When the parks closed down three weeks ago, Bryson said it was due to issues of overcrowding.
"The decision to close the state parks was a difficult one because we really know, even scientific evidence will show, that being outdoors, being in nature, is good for your physical health and your emotional health in particularly in times of stress like we're in now," he said.
During the closure, the parks went over procedural changes, added more signage and PPE for park rangers. Bryson said they believe the time is right to reopen because of the changes and increased awareness.
"Over the last few weeks, we've been able to address many of those problems. We've worked on a lot of procedures and provided equipment to our staffs so they can be safer and our guests can be safer," he said. "We have more signage and we're now to the point that we believe we can open safely. We also believe people understand the need to social distance."
All parks will open for day-use only which means no overnight camping. Bryson said that's to encourage people to use parks near their homes and to prevent unnecessary travel.
Trails and activities like disc golfing courses will be open but facilities and places to gather like campgrounds, pavilions and playgrounds will remain close.
Bryson said park rangers have been directed to look for overcrowding. If crowding becomes an issue they are directed to close down that area of the park and possibly the entire park.
"We have to keep people from congregating. It is our guest responsibility when they come to a park to act responsibility and to keep a distance. If they don't, we'll close that area down," he said.