Enjoying great outdoors tougher at some Western Pa. parks - Plum

Enjoying great outdoors tougher at some Western Pa. parks

Trib logo Mary Ann Thomas

Tuesday, March 17, 2020 | 5:33 PM

Enjoying the great outdoors is getting more difficult at some public parks as organizations are closing some park facilities, canceling events and making some parks off-limits altogether because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has closed facilities including restrooms and buildings at all 121 of its state parks for at least the next two weeks. Trails, lakes, forests, roads and parking areas remain open.

The decision to close state park restrooms was made to “facilitate social distancing,” DCNR Press Secretary Terry Brady said.

Westmoreland County decided Tuesday to close all 11 of its parks until further notice starting 8 a.m. Wednesday.

“What we’re trying to do is to limit space where people can gather to potentially spread the coronavirus,” said Brandon Simpson, assistant director of parks and recreation for Westmoreland County.

Allegheny County Parks remain open with portable toilets, but all park programs have been canceled and facilities closed until at least March 30.

Allegheny County spokeswoman Amie Downs said county health officials think people should continue to go outside to take walks and enjoy the fresh air.

“But they should also practice social distancing, staying 6 feet apart from each other,” Downs said.

Hartwood Acres Mansion, Boyce Park Nature Center and North Park’s Latodami Nature Center will be closed.

Star parties scheduled for April 3 and 4 at Wagman Observatory in Deer Lakes Park in West Deer are canceled.

Although Allegheny County Park offices will remain open during regular business hours, the public should not visit them. People can send an email to webmaster.parks@alleghenycounty.us or call 412-350-2455.

All of the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania’s public programs have been canceled through at least April 15, but trails will remain open from dawn until dusk at its three reserves: Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve in Fox Chapel, Succop Nature Park in Penn Township, Butler County, and Todd Nature Reserve in Buffalo Township.

“Sunshine and fresh air are some of the most restorative things that we have readily available to us,” Audubon spokeswoman Rachel Handel said.

“We are strongly encouraging people to get outside and experience nature, and to follow the recommendations of the CDC for social distancing,” she added.

Venture Outdoors, a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit that offers hikes, kayaking and other outdoor activities, has canceled its slate of upcoming events, including next month’s Banff Centre Mountain Film Festival.

“We are working internally to transition our resources and expertise into tools residents, caregivers and parents can use as we work as a community to navigate these unprecedented times,” said Valerie Beichner, president and CEO of Venture Outdoors.

Meetup, a social group that organizes activities online, is still offering some hikes on local trails away from playgrounds and other public places.

“Find someone to get out with while avoiding close personal contact,” said Donna Boehmer of Robinson Township, Washington County, an organizer for Meetup’s Pittsburgh Adventure Lovers.

“Enjoy the outdoors and the fresh air, but be sure to use the restroom before you head out,” she said, adding people should settle for long-distance waves instead of handshakes and hugs.

The Rachel Carson Trails Conservancy is still offering hikes and trail work events, said Bob Reiland of O’Hara, president of the conservancy’s board.

“The main thing is people need to stay apart on the trail and to exercise caution,” Reiland said. “Hiking is thousands of times safer than going to the grocery store.”