While Missouri residents were encouraged to go outside for recreation while heeding social distancing recommendations during the coronavirus scare, large crowds at some state parks and conservation areas have led to problems.
Ste. Genevieve County commissioners discussed the subject with county conservation agent Rob Sulkowski during last Thursday’s meeting.
Presiding Commissioner Garry Nelson said a resident who lives near the Magnolia Hollow Conservation Area complained about visitors from Festus, St. Louis and Pevely congregating there.
Sulkowski said last week the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) has no intention of closing Pickle Springs or Magnolia Hollow in Ste. Genevieve County.
Sulkowski said the MDC recommends people get fresh air to pursue “wellness,” and added that “these places are somewhat safe” for people to go, if they maintain six feet of distance between each other.
“I want to see people get out,” Nelson said, “but you start parking on the road and blocking private driveways, then it’s a problem.”
“We’ll never be able to build a big enough parking lot,” Sulkowski said
He said he “gets bombed every spring with calls,” complaining about people at Magnolia Hollow — especially the parking issue.
He said a second parking lot has been built, which “could hold about 40 cars if I parked them,” but holds around 20 the way most motorists park.
Sulkowski said they couldn’t bulldoze more natural land to make additional parking spaces when the lots are only overflowing on occasion. …
Some state parks have closed, including Elephant Rocks State Park in Iron County, and many others have shut down their visitors centers, campgrounds and playgrounds, while maintaining staffing for maintenance and other duties.
“There is the normal staffing,” Mike Sutherland, director of the Missouri Division of State Parks since January 31, told the Herald last week. “We did close four facilities; the staffs are still there, doing work. There’s work being done on maintenance and just keeping the grounds in good shape. And we have park rangers that are still patrolling the parks as they would normally.”
The large crowds at Elephant Rocks on March 29 prompted Iron County Presiding Commissioner Jim Scaggs to write a letter to Governor Mike Parson asking him to close all state parks. Iron County had as of Sunday not yet had a reported case of COVID-19.
Castlewood State Park, Watkins Woolen Mill State Historic Site and Weston Bend State Park also were closed last week while St. Joe State Park closed its off-road vehicle-riding area.
Hawn State Park in Ste. Genevieve County also drew a large number of people seeking recreation in recent weeks. There were more than a dozen cars parked in the lots on the morning of April 1.
“Hawn State Park is still open as it normally would be, at our normal staffing levels,” Sutherland said. “We have made some changes. Although Hawn is open, the visitors’ center and the park office is not open. The public campground is not open.
“So, actions have been taken to reduce crowding, reduce areas where social distancing could not be happening. Our staff is doing maintenance and managing the facilities.”
At Ste. Genevieve’s Felix Valle House State Historic Site, normally the Felix Valle House, the Shaw House and the Green Tree Tavern would begin opening for tours the first week of April. But all three buildings — which could be transferred to the Department of the Interior for the formation of the Sainte Genevieve National Historical Park if legislation makes it through the Missouri House and Missouri Senate — were closed while the grounds were open on a limited schedule.
See complete story in the April 8 edition of the Herald.