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Parks in St. Louis region bustle despite calls for social distancing
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Parks in St. Louis region bustle despite calls for social distancing

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ST. LOUIS COUNTY — Both parking lots were so packed at Cliff Cave County Park early Sunday afternoon in south St. Louis County that vehicles were pulled off into the grass.

“This is probably the busiest that I have ever seen it,” said Laurie Marti, 52, getting ready to go for a walk.

A Great Rivers Greenway sign recommended that people stay at least 6 feet apart on the paths and in groups of fewer than 10 to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The sign added: “Enjoy the free fresh air responsibly and help us all stay healthy!”

But Barbie Bruemer, who joined Marti for a walk, had doubts.

“I guess everybody is tired of being inside so they came out today,” said Bruemer, 51. “I don’t know if everybody is being responsible.”

The temperature was 65 degrees, with gusts of wind blowing across the nearby Mississippi River. Families, big and small, seemed to move around in packs, while others passed through, biking, running and walking. There’s a 5.1-mile paved loop and other trails.

“There’s plenty of room to distance, and we’ve got to get out,” said Elaine Repkin, 64, having a picnic with her husband at the pavilion. “No one stays cooped up in their house all the time.”

They’d never seen it this busy, though.

“There have been gorgeous days when there’s been no one here but us,” she said.

Authorities in the St. Louis region have received complaints about large groups of people outdoors over the weekend.

St. Louis city officials announced on Sunday that they are further restricting the use of park facilities during the coronavirus pandemic. The city is closing tennis, basketball, pickleball, racquetball and handball courts and roller rinks until at least April 22.

Golf carts are now prohibited at Probstein and Highlands golf courses in Forest Park, officials said. Instead, golfers will walk the courses and should follow social distancing guidelines.

“Despite repeated warnings from medical experts to avoid large crowds and social gatherings, we continue to see and get reports of people coming into close contact with each other at our parks during recreational and athletic activities,” said Mayor Lyda Krewson in a press release.

The restrictions come after the city closed public playgrounds on Friday.

Missouri State Parks Director Mike Sutherland visited Castlewood State Park in Ballwin on Sunday afternoon.

“I wanted to get out, as the parks director making decisions, to see firsthand what the situation was,” Sutherland said by telephone.

He said he saw a lot of people enjoying the outdoors.

“The park was really at capacity,” he said. “During the day, we had to shut the gate twice because it got to where cars would come and couldn’t find a parking spot. On some of the trails people were sparse and gave plenty of distance. Then there were some other trails where there was a high density of people.”

Asked if he foresaw asking for more restrictions to maintain social distancing, he said not all 92 state parks are as busy as Castlewood but that he’d be looking into it.

St. Louis County police said they received one call for service on Saturday at Castlewood for a large group of people. The park rangers handled it, said Tracy Panus, spokeswoman for the county police.

“We continue to encourage everyone to social distance in order to stay safe and healthy, whether that interaction takes place at the store or in a public park,” Panus said Sunday.

On Sunday, the Swansea Police Department publicized a note to parents and children. It said many Metro East police departments were receiving complaints about children playing basketball, soccer and other outdoor activities “while disregarding social distancing.”

“If we continue to follow the recommendations from the medical community, we know that we can lessen the spread of COVID-19,” Swansea police said. “Please remember that everyone has an obligation to live responsibly and shelter in place. We do not want to close all parks, but we need your help ... Care enough about your loved ones, neighbors, friends and the community to keep at a distance.”

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