Brown County officials want state parks closed during COVID-19 pandemic

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BROWN COUNTY, Ind. — Brown County authorities are calling on Governor Eric Holcomb to shut down state parks in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.

On Monday, Governor Holcomb ordered the closure of all campgrounds, including campgrounds at state parks. But state parks are still open to those who want to visit to use the trails, have picnics, or other activities that don’t include camping overnight.

Brown County Commissioners are calling on Governor Holcomb to take the order a step further and close state parks entirely. In a letter sent to the Governor over the weekend, they argue too many visitors from out-of-town are traveling to Brown County and disregarding guidelines on essential travel and social distancing.

“The increased travel to our communities via the state properties is creating a heightened risk to our local residents,” Brown County Commissioner Diana Biddle said in a video announcement. “The out-of-county and out-of-state visitors are also visiting our one grocery store, three gas stations and one pharmacy.”

As a popular destination for recreational tourism, downtown Nashville normally sees a high number of visitors. Brown County residents we spoke to said they are sympathetic to those who want to visit the state park for some outdoor activity. However, they’re also seeing more activity around Nashville than they are comfortable with.  

“People do need something to do, and they’re trying to get them outside,” said Barb Gets. “But when they still have to use our services here, it’s still putting people at risk.”

“Because it is such a small community, if one person is exposed in IGA, then affects everyone,” said Allison Beckner.

“We had large motorcycle groups and bicycle groups that were “picnicking” in our grocery store parking lot over the weekend, in addition to other family groups coming in,” said Brown County resident Jill Denise Hill. “Our hardware store, gas stations, etc were crowded. Our residents here are an older demographic and are at higher risk.”

A Shelby County family visiting Brown County State Park Monday said they hope the park won’t be completely shut down, but they also understand the concerns of local residents.

“That’s whey we came down today (Monday), because we didn’t figure there would be anybody down here,” said Shelby County resident Jan Hitchcock. “Just to walk and get the kids out for a little bit.”

Campgrounds closing down could potentially cut down on the number of people stopping at local stores for food and other supplies, one DNR official said. However, Brown County authorities believe too many people are disregarding travel and social distancing guidelines.

“While the governor has promoted hiking in our parks, this is not a vacation,” Biddle said.

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