Record numbers at parks and beaches, state secretary says

People pack the sand, most with plenty of space between themselves and other groups, at Good Harbor Beach on Friday. Joseph Prezioso/Photo

BOSTON — With many indoor activities on hold during the pandemic, state officials have been encouraging people to get outside for exercise, recreation and fresh air. One top Baker administration official said Tuesday that people are taking that advice to heart.

The numbers of people flocking to state parks and beaches are soaring, Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides said, and that's making the importance of protecting and preserving the environment even more clear to her.

"I think during the difficult times that we've been through, many of us have really taken respite in the natural world and enjoyed the opportunity to get outside to many of our local green spaces and some more far-flung locations across the state that we may not have visited in the past," she said during a virtual meeting with groups advocating for bold climate policy. "Our state parks parks and beaches are seeing record numbers, sometimes up over 200 percent above average. And so we've worked hard to ensure that people have access to these resources, while continuing to implement safe practices to reduce the spread of COVID-19."

The Department of Conservation and Recreation said the secretary was basing her comments on data from a June 23 COVID-19 Community Mobility Report prepared by Google. That document shows that mobility related to places like national parks, public beaches, marinas, dog parks, plazas and public gardens in Massachusetts is up 99% over the baseline, and even higher for specific counties.

For instance, Barnstable County parks (and beaches) have seen a 323% increase in activity based on mobility data, Essex County has seen a 207% increase, and Plymouth County has seen a 254% increase, according to the document.

"We're very fortunate that we have these natural resources here in Massachusetts, and also realize how important it is to protect and preserve our environment going forward," the secretary said Tuesday. "We hope that every single one of these people who has enjoyed the great outdoors during this period will stay and will continue to be a user of our parks and green spaces going forward."

The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is thought to spread far more easily indoors, and Gov. Charlie Baker and other public officials have said that, as a general rule, doing something outdoors is better than doing anything indoors.

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