“My preference would be to not further deprive folks of recreational opportunities out there, but have law enforcement remind people to use social distancing. We’re getting close to outlawing fun.”

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SHALIMAR — Following Tuesday’s Okaloosa County Commission meeting, playgrounds, restrooms and picnic pavilions at county parks remained closed through April 30, while walking trails, open fields and boat ramps at the parks remained accessible.


While county officials implemented that arrangement on March 24 as a way to try to decrease the spread of the coronavirus, more park restrictions might be in store.


At Tuesday’s meeting, Deputy County Administrator of Operations Craig Coffey said some county parks have seen a “huge influx” of people since various park amenities were placed off-limits.


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“We have also experienced individuals removing tape from closed facilities and the stays often appear to be longer in nature, making the closed bathrooms an issue,” Coffey said in a memo to the commission. “The concern is that despite our best intentions and best efforts the parks being partially open are potentially another conduit for the community spread of the virus.”


Two weekends ago at Marler Park on Okaloosa Island, vandals broke through a gate to access the park area next to the boat ramp, county Public Works Director Jason Autrey said. And since the closure of various park amenities, the county has seen an increase in visitors to its river and creek parks and boat launches, he said.


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On another noted, he said staff has found much less trash on local beaches since last month’s closure of all Gulf-front beaches within the county.


At its meeting next Tuesday, the commission plans to discuss whether to close parks where many visitors have refused to abide by social distancing guidelines. Another option is to close all county parks but not the boat ramps that can be accessed independent of the parks.


At Tuesday’s session, Commissioner Nathan Boyles said the commission cannot be the social-distancing police.


“My preference would be to not further deprive folks of recreational opportunities out there, but have law enforcement remind people to use social distancing,” he said. “We’re getting close to outlawing fun.”


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