Minnesotans aren’t likely to restrain themselves this weekend.
Throngs of people pining to revel in above-normal spring temperatures will crowd parks, trails, shorelines, lakes and farmers markets, all while trying to navigate a world where a global pandemic makes social distancing a necessity.
On Thursday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered beaches temporarily closed in Orange County after thousands flocked to them last weekend in defiance of a stay-at-home order.
That could serve as a warning to restless Minnesotans, who’ve been under a stay-at-home order since March 27. On Thursday, Gov. Tim Walz added two weeks to that order, which was set to expire Monday.
Across the state, Minnesotans have been turning to the outdoors for exercise and solace, which means parks, trails and even usually quiet trout streams often are teeming with people.
The number of park visitors is “out of this world,” said Kim Pleticha, spokeswoman for the state Department of Natural Resources.
That’s why the DNR, along with local and regional park officials, is urging people not to overcrowd and overwhelm public spaces.
If a parking lot is full, go to a different site, Pleticha said. She advised downloading the DNR’s Rec Compass app to find a nearby place to explore, including lesser-known wildlife management areas and scientific and natural areas.
“I know, people are sick and tired of being cooped up at home. They’re tired of being told to stay close to home,” Pleticha said.
But like the beaches in California, some parks are getting a bit too crowded.
Eddie Rivard of New Brighton, an avid angler, just moves somewhere else when he sees a crowd.
“There are hundreds of miles of streams to fish, so sometimes you just drive another mile down the road,” he said Thursday after a day spent wading in the Whitewater River in southeastern Minnesota.
Park officials agree there’s enough green space and water to accommodate people, but it may mean going to less popular spots.
“We have plenty of room for people to get out and spread out,” said Luke Skinner, district associate superintendent for the Three Rivers Park District. But sometimes it means going to the park outside peak times from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
“I get out all the time in the morning at 8 o’clock,” Skinner said. “I was at Elm Creek [Park Reserve] and there were five cars in the lot. I didn’t see a soul.”
Minneapolis park officials have put up about 5,000 signs reminding people to social distance and do their part in keeping parks safe amid the coronavirus outbreak. People can’t go to movie theaters, concerts, shopping malls or even linger on the outdoor patio of a coffee shop, said parks spokeswoman Dawn Sommers. “So now people are sitting 6 feet across from a friend at a park with a cup of coffee that they brought from home,” she said.
“Right now there’s a lot of pressure on parks,” she said. The park’s public boat launches will open Friday, likely luring more to the water.
On Lake Minnetonka, marina co-owner Gabriel Jabbour has been busy putting boats in the water since March, and he, too, expects to see crowds this weekend.
“People are stir crazy,” he said.