HARDWICK — The parking lots at Kittatinny Point and Dunnfield Creek within the Delaware Water Gap will remain closed for the near future despite state parks and forests being re-opened.
On Wednesday, Gov. Phil Murphy gave his approval for state parks and forests to re-open on Saturday morning. That order includes Worthington State Forest, location of the Dunnfield Creek parking lot and the Dunnfield Creek Trail.
In answer to an inquiry from the New Jersey Herald, the Division of Parks and Forestry said Thursday morning the parking lot will not open.
Caryn Shinske, spokeswoman for the Department of Environmental Protection, wrote, "Hikers may resume access to the Mount Tammany section of the Appalachian Trail from the Old Mine Road access point within Worthington State Forest."
She also reminded visitors that social distancing is a priority at all New Jersey state parks and forests.
"Visitors are strongly encouraged to protect themselves and others by wearing face masks or coverings, and are reminded that maintaining a 6-foot distance from others at all times is mandatory," she wrote.
The Kittatinny Point parking lot, which is owned by the National Park Service, as well as the Dunnfield Creek parking lot, were closed on March 28. Murphy closed all state and county parks on April 7.
The two areas had become overcrowded with people hiking the Dunnfield Creek Trail and other trails which lead up the New Jersey side of the Delaware Water Gap known as Mount Tammany.
The number of people also created parking issues when the lots became full and people began parking on the Interstate 80 right-of-way. The highway cuts between the federal and state parking areas.
Kathleen Sandt, spokesperson for the recreation area, said the Kittatinny Point lot and all facilities, including canoe and boat launches, picnic areas and restrooms, will remain closed and that NPS staff will be assigned to the area "as we have done each weekend for the past six weeks."
As part of the state park/forest closures, historic Old Mine Road which runs through Worthington and connects with the federal park, was closed.
There are small parking areas along the road at the start of several trails which lead up to colonial-era mines and on to the top of Kittatinny Ridge. Those trail connect with other trails leading to popular spots such as Sunfish Pond.
Shinske also reminded hikers and park users that social distancing remains a priority at all New Jersey state parks and forests.
Sandt said that the National Park Service "recognizes that at times like these, parks can fill our needs to be inspired, to find solace, to exercise, and to connect with the world around us. However, we have a responsibility to ensure this need doesn’t outweigh the protection of these special places and the protection of our employees and visitors."
The federal park, which straddles the Delaware River and includes nearly 80,000 acres in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania, "continues to see congestion and crowding, especially on weekends and at popular destinations," she added, and park rangers and staff "will continue to urge visitors to adhere to CDC and local public health guidelines regarding social distancing."
Among the rules being stressed by the National Park Service are:
• Park only in designated areas and stay out of areas that are closed.
• Pack out everything you bring into the park and take it home with you, including all trash and the latest form of litter — masks and gloves.
• Plan a visit at times other than busiest of the day; weekend afternoons are always the busiest and many parking areas fill early in the day.
• Maintain social distance from other visitors. If you encounter parking area with a lot of cars, seek another location to recreate.
Sandt reminded visitors there are more than 150 miles of trails in the park, so it is easy to avoid the most popular areas.
While the park has remained open through the pandemic, some services in the park are limited with restrooms and some boat launches and special areas also closed.