Missouri state parks remain open; site offices close

JEFFERSON CITY (AP) — The Missouri Department of Natural Resources is keeping state parks open amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The department will try to limit visitors’ interaction with rangers and other park staffers.

“Out of an abundance of caution, Missouri Department of Natural Resources announces Missouri State Parks will temporarily close visitor centers, park offices and site offices to walk-in foot traffic through April 30,” the department announced.

State park workers will be on-site to answer questions and sign in campers. Signs will direct guests to restrooms and other services.

The changes went into effect Friday in a move to curtail the spread of the coronavirus. Campgrounds, all day-use areas, boat ramps and trails remain open.

“We’ve basically limited our walk-in traffic to our indoor spaces,” Missouri State Parks Director Mike Sutherland said.

Natural Resources Department has stopped taking reservations for picnic pavilions and group camping sites where large groups might gather. Nature programs and tours at historic sites also have been suspended.

Lodges are still open, but local vendors may seek to limit the number of people in restaurants or other public spaces.

The global coronavirus pandemic could contribute to another year of declining state park visitor numbers. In 2019, the parks’ visitor total plummeted 12 percent, mostly due to widespread flooding. For the first time since 2015, the department said total visitation dropped below 20 million to 18.5 million.

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