Springing ahead: Update on COVID-19 guidelines and restrictions

Last Friday was a good day for Minnesotans with the “turning of the dials” in many different aspects for the state. Although increasing capacity limits at restaurants and bars is great, here at Greater Minnesota Parks and Trails we were more concerned with outdoor recreation programs and facilities. The Governor’s most recent executive order, EO 20-11, impacts our parks, recreation, and trail operations in many ways. We hope this update will help provide some clarity for you.

First, the Minnesota DNR released updated Guidance for Outdoor Recreation and Facilities. Although it loosens some restrictions, it reminds us to still encourage proper social distancing and require mask-wearing when proper, such as when social distancing cannot be maintained or in indoor situations.

Capacity limits

Capacity limits for outdoor social gatherings have been raised to a maximum of 50 people with social distancing. If you are curious if your outdoor facility can meet this requirement, the DNR has provided a formula for you to use. To simplify the formula for outdoor facilities, take the total square feet of your facility and divide it by 113 (the amount of square feet per person to allow for social distancing  ). This will give you an occupancy limit for your facility.

Capacity limits for indoor gatherings have been increased to a maximum of 15 people and the three-household limit has been removed.

Camping

The camping season is drawing nearer each day and many of us are preparing our campgrounds to welcome the first campers of 2021. We are excited to see that state removed the 50-foot space requirement from centerline to centerline without a vegetation break between campsites. The new recommendation in the Campground Guidance is: “Ensure spacing between campsites is adequate to allow for six feet of social distancing between people from different households.” This means that many of us will be able to open at full capacity.

Some smaller items in the updated guidance include hand dryers no longer need to be disabled, sinks and toilets do not have to be shut off or blocked off for social distancing requirements, and for those that operate camper cabins you no longer need to wait 24 hours between rentals as long as you are able to get in and clean them properly. The 50-person maximum also applies to Group Campsites for this upcoming season.

Drinking Fountains

Drinking fountains are another subject of curiosity. Unfortunately, the new guidance does not touch on this subject. In recent conversations with the DNR, the suggestion was to shut off any drinking fountains that only have the one drinking functionality. If you have a fountain that has a combined filling station and a drinking station, you are encouraged to turn off the drinking function and leave the filling station operational (if you can separate the two functions). If you can’t separate the functions, you may leave them on for people to fill water bottles. Cleaning protocols are the same as last season.

Programming and Guide Services

If you conduct programs or provide guide services, you will be excited to know that limits for programs have been increased to 25 participants with social distancing in outdoor settings with a maximum of 50. If you are indoors, you are limited to 15 people, but no longer restricted by the number of households. We hope this will allow many of you to start conducting more programs this season.

Signage

Signage is still a key factor in communicating to our patrons. Restroom facilities need to be signed with capacity limits. If you have welcome centers, they need to be signed with capacity limits and that face coverings are required at them. It may be wise to post your cleaning schedules for people to see. In our current climate, we cannot over communicate expectations within our parks, facilities, and programs.

Light at the End of the Tunnel

It has been year since the pandemic started, and we hope that this “spring forward” moment is providing some much-needed light in the tunnel. GMPT will continue to monitor the executive orders and guidance that comes out over the next few months and we will do our best to communicate to you what we see and how it impacts us. Please reach out to us with any questions or comments and we look forward to hearing about what is going on in your systems through this year.