State parks, recreation areas, stay open — so far

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By ERYN HO
Capital News Service

LANSING — Michigan has closed visitor centers and other indoor facilities because of the coronavirus, but state parks and recreational areas remain open.

For now.

“We’re allowing people to camp and lodge in the state parks at this time, but things may change down the road,” said Ron Olson, the chief of the Parks and Recreation Division of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). 

And activities like weddings, running races, bike races and other trail events drawing more than 50 people have been already cancelled or postponed to prevent the spread of the virus.

“People are still welcome to enjoy the public outdoor areas at state parks and recreation areas, state game and wildlife areas, state forests, state trails and, of course, our lakes, rivers and streams,” the DNR said.

Hiking and camping are still permitted, but washing hands, keeping social distance and other precautions recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are advised.

“Outside is different from inside quarters, but contact isn’t,” Olson said. “We’re doing our best to ask people to utilize good hygiene techniques.”

Just as when you’re sick and have symptoms you shouldn’t go to work, you also should avoid public spaces, Olson said. 

Whether state beaches and recreational areas will remain open in the summer will be determined as Michigan approaches warmer months.

Right now, all state beaches; the 103 state parks; 1,300 boat launches; and more than 13,000 miles of trails are open, Olson said.

Cold temperatures keep people from crowding Michigan beaches.

The DNR is working closely with the governor’s emergency management system as new information is available to make decisions on closures and advisories, Olson said.

There’s no indication of a need to monitor beaches and recreational areas for the virus, said Lynn Sutfin, a public information officer for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Public water supplies are routinely monitored for total coliform and E. coli bacteria, Sutfin said, because those organisms can indicate contamination. 

Many public water supplies also practice disinfection which would effectively kill viruses, she said.

The coronavirus is excreted in feces and can end up in sewage, but its concentration in sewage systems is believed to be low and not a concern for transmission, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. No cases have been linked to sewage.

Joan Rose, an international water quality expert and a professor at Michigan State University, said the system used to monitor beaches for fecal pollution is the same used to detect viruses in wastewater. An indicator virus or organism shows whether multiple viruses, including coronaviruses, are in the water.

“We can just monitor this indicator virus that shows that it’s being removed by wastewater treatment,” Rose said.

The crisis has opened doors to further investigation of the viral composition in recreational waters, Rose said. But she notes that “in the Great Lakes, concentrations in water could be one in a million, so being infected by the lakes is not very probable.”

It’s unknown if the coronavirus is seasonal, she said. 

Areas closed by the DNR:

  • Visitor centers at state parks
  • Outdoor Adventure Center, the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory and Belle Isle Aquarium (Detroit)
  • The Michigan History Museum and Archives (Lansing)
  • The Michigan Iron Industry Museum (Negaunee)
  • Oden and Wolf Lake state fish hatchery interpretive centers
  • Porcupine Mountain Ski Area and chalet (Ontonagon)
  • Ralph A. MacMullan Conference Center (Roscommon)
  • All state fish hatcheries and weirs
  • DNR-staffed shooting ranges

DNR customer service centers and field offices are closed to walk-in traffic but schedule appointments by phone.

Eryn Ho writes for Great Lakes Echo.