JEFFERSON CITY — All or parts of at least five state parks in Missouri will be closed through the end of April after officials said too many people packed into the facilities last weekend.
Castlewood State Park, comprised of 1,800 acres on the Meramec River in St. Louis County, is among the state-run areas that will be locked up at 5 p.m. Thursday, said Carol Comer, director of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.
Other locations barred to visitors include Elephant Rocks State Park in Iron County, Watkins Woolen Mill State Historic Site in Clay County and Weston Bend State Park in Platte County.
The off-road vehicle riding area at St. Joe State Park also will be shuttered for the month.
With Gov. Mike Parson calling for residents to practice social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19, parks officials were alarmed after people swarmed to parks and other outdoor activities.
“We understand the importance of physical activity and getting outside during this unprecedented time,” said Mike Sutherland, director of DNR’s Division of State Parks. “However, we have to make changes to operations at some facilities, due to overcrowding, to ensure public safety.”
The restrictions follow a move on Friday by St. Louis officials to close public playgrounds.
On Sunday, the city also closed tennis, basketball, pickleball, racquetball and handball courts, and roller rinks until at least April 22.
With sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-60s, Castlewood was at capacity Sunday, Sutherland said.
He said park workers had to shut the gate twice because cars were streaming in, but couldn’t find parking spots.
“If a park looks full, then it is,” he said. “Whether you’re inside or outside, you must follow the guidance provided by the CDC and Governor Parson: Keep 6 feet between you and others, avoid crowded areas, wash your hands often, avoid touching your face, cover your mouth and nose with your elbow when you cough or sneeze, and, most importantly, stay home if you are sick.”
In addition to the closures, officials are prohibiting camping and the use of large picnic shelters by groups during the outbreak.
Comer said additional closures could be coming.
“As conditions and recommendations change, we will make additional closures as needed,” she said.