Geese make their away across the Schuylkill River near Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park. [Photo: Kyle Bagenstose]
By Kyle Bagenstose
Welcome to the first ever environmental news roundup from DelVal Outdoors. I hope to write these regularly to update readers on all news and developments regarding the outdoors in the region.
First, a quick shoutout to some of the awesome journalists and outlets that produced news items referenced below. You should follow them to go straight to the source: Frank Kummer covers the environment for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Catalina Jaramillo covers the environment and sustainability for WHYY, Michael Sol Warren is the environmental reporter for NJ.com, and former PADEP secretary David Hess runs the PA Environment Digest newsletter, where he breaks down all PA state government news coming out of Harrisburg.
Today’s headlines and highlights
Good news: It’s a gorgeous spring day, expected to be mostly sunny and breaking 70 degrees in Center City Philly. Bad news: of course the novel coronavirus hovers over everything as the crisis continues to ramp up in NJ, PA, and DE.
We’re working on putting together a comprehensive list of what’s open, closed, and where later today, but the big change from yesterday is that the NJDEP has closed all state parks and forests effective 8:00 p.m. last night. This appears to mean everything, including hiking and boating, as the NJDEP apparently saw unsafe trends of crowded parks continuing.
“We regret very much that it has become necessary to close our state parks and forests at this time,” NJDEP commissioner Catherine McCabe said in a press release. “This is not a decision that DEP makes lightly. We understand that New Jerseyans particularly need fresh air and exercise during this stressful time, but as the weather warms, our parks are becoming crowded and it is difficult in many places to observe the social distancing that is so critical to fighting the COVID-19 outbreak.”
It appears that county parks are included in the state-wide shutdown. The Hunterdon, Mercer, Burlington, Camden, and Gloucester P&R departments all have online notices that parks are totally closed. We’ve reached out to each to see what kind of outdoor recreation is permissible, and will update if and when responses are received.
In Pennsylvania it appears state parks remain open for recreation for the time being, although all facilities and programming remain shuttered.
“The public can access trails, lakes, roads, and parking for passive and dispersed recreation, such as hiking,” the state DCNR’s website reads.
WHYY’s Jaramillo further confirmed with state and Philadelphia officials that trails and parks remain open for socially-distanced use.
It appears suburban Pennsylvania counties are mixed. Delaware County is following the state’s leading in keeping trails open while shuttering all facilities and programming. But Bucks P&R states that “all county parks, park trails, and nature center trails are currently closed” due to Gov. Tom Wolf’s stay at home order.
This is somewhat confusing: Wolf’s order states that residents may leave the home to engage “in outdoor activity, such as walking, hiking, or running if they maintain social distancing.” (UPDATE: The Bucks website now reads as of noon 4/8 that “All county parks, nature centers, and Moravian Pottery and Tile Works are currently closed.” We’ll be checking to see trail status.)
Again, we’ve reached out to all parties for the latest, and will hopefully be able to sort through what’s what once responses come in. If you’re seeing anything noteworthy where you live, feel free to drop me a line at Kyle@DelValOutdoors.com
But what about fishing?
Good news did come to anglers in Pennsylvania when the state Fish and Boat Commission did a stealth launch of trout season yesterday, moving it up 11 days from April 18. It appears the move was to help avoid the large first-day crowds that typically come with a scheduled opening day, and the state is further keeping secret its trout stocking schedule to avoid frenzies along waterways.
Fish and Boat is also asking all anglers to stay within 15 minutes of home and six feet away from others to help mitigate any spread of the coronavirus.
Still, there are signs of complications. LancasterOnline’s Sean Sauro reported confusion among anglers and a sense that the state’s guidelines would not be enforceable. PennLive’s Marcus Schneck reported that anglers were crowding without facemasks along a lake in Cumberland County.
It seems the kind of thing destined for additional closures, restrictions, or enforcement, and we’ll keep an eye on it.
To the south, it appears the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control flung open the doors to trout season on March 31, with the below graphic appearing to depict that either it also encourages six feet of distance, or that anglers point their rods threateningly toward one another. The state also has a strict requirement that anybody coming in from out of state to hunt, fish, golf, or visit other amenities must self-quarantine for 14 days.
More news from around the region
While coronavirus continues to understandably dominate the headlines, here’s a quick rundown on other news items, some of which are wholly separate from the virus. Click through to get the full reads and support the journalists:
Preserved land in Chester County: PA Environment Digest reports that the 54-acre Castle Rock Farm near West Chester has been preserved by the Media-based nonprofit Natural Lands. The parcel is adjacent to other protected lands in the vicinity of the West Branch of the Brandywine Creek. Proponents say such designation protects waterways, groundwater supplies, and can benefit local economies and public health.
Surge of visitors to Philly’s Wissahickon Valley: The Inquirer’s Frank Kummer reports that the beautiful Wissahickon Valley Park is continuing to see a potentially dangerous surge in visitors. There’s no immediate signs of a closure, but stewards are urging people to social distance, wear masks, and not congregate in groups. Kummer also ties the increased foot traffic to packed parking lots and crowded trails in Montgomery County and the Pinelands.
Ways to bike and hike near Philly: The Circuit Trails Coalition, which promotes the use of hundreds of miles of recreational trails in Philly metro area, has some great content. Here’s a rundown of three social distance-friendly outdoor activities to do. They also tipped me off to this Twitter thread from Daniel Paschall with the East Coast Greenway, who highlighted five less-crowded trails in various corners of the city (plus 1 in Bucks County). I’m probably preaching to the choir, but any bike enthusiasts should just be following the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia on Twitter, where they run down the latest of what’s open. A continued pro-tip seems to be to utilize MLK Drive on the west banks of the Schuylkill, after it was closed to motorized traffic last month.
Improvement in state air quality?: NJ.com’s Michael Sol Warren provides an original analysis of air monitoring data, combined with expert input, to show how the state’s air pollution appears to be decreasing in line with economic activity and transportation, at least toward NYC metro. I’ve also done some analysis of air quality indicators in the Philly region, and will report in a future post.
Water protection for Camden’s Cooper River: The Inquirer’s Frank Kummer also reports that the NJDEP has upgraded protections on 600 miles of rivers and streams in the state. That means restrictions on nearby development and polluting discharges, including a two-mile stretch of the Cooper River in Camden. 7,000 of NJ’s 23,500 river miles now have such protections, Kummer reports.
NJDEP creates tough new standards on PFAS: Cheesy shoutout to, well, me, for this USA Today story I wrote on the NJDEP creating new drinking water standards for a pair of toxic PFAS chemicals in drinking water. It still has to undergo a final legal review, but the standards will basically make New Jersey a leading state in regulating an emerging class of toxic chemicals. Whether they’ll be sued by private industry or even the Department of Defense is the next big question.
What did I miss? Send any additional environmental news of interest to Kyle@DelValOutdoors.com.