Hike and camp at state parks, but forget big weddings and trail races

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Trade the pandemic for a panorama at Michigan State Parks which remain open for now. Arch Rock, Mackinac Island State Park. Image: Cecelia Batterbee

By Eryn Ho

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, chief of the parks and recreation division of the Department of Natural Resources. 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.

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

“Outside is different than 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.

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.

The Michigan History Museum is among the state facilities closed because of the coronavirus. Image: Eryn Ho

Elsewhere, in warmer climates, some beaches have been closed.

Fort Lauderdale and Miami closed popular beaches because health officials didn’t want people to infect each other, said Shannon Briggs, a toxicologist at​ the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy. They did it not because the waters are bad, but because the beaches are a popular place for people to gather.

“The reason we did this is to send a message out: spring break is over,” Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber said at a recent press conference.

Cold temperatures keep people from crowding Michigan beaches.

It is unknown if the coronavirus is seasonal, said Joan Rose, an international water quality expert and a professor at Michigan State University. It has been prevalent in a lot of different countries with a lot of different climates, so there is not much of a sense whether it is seasonal or not.

There is no indication that beaches and recreational areas need to be monitored for the virus, said Lynn Sutfin, 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. These 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 sewerage 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.

The system used to monitor beaches for fecal pollution is the same one used to detect viruses in wastewater, Rose said. 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 investigating 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.”

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 of Michigan (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. Call to schedule appointments. Updated information: DNR – Closures.

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