Corps reopens campgrounds

JACKSONVILLE — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District announces the gradual reopening, starting June 1, of some corps-managed recreation areas along the Okeechobee Waterway that were closed to protect against the further spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

“The health and safety of our employees, volunteers and visitors is our top priority. Our rangers have been hard at work, planning for the gradual reopening of our recreation facilities and implementing increased protection measures and signage to ensure everyone can enjoy our recreation areas safely and responsibly,” said Jeff Fallin, chief of the South Florida Operations Office in Clewiston. “We know that everyone is looking forward to getting outside and returning to their favorite recreation areas and appreciate the public’s patience and understanding during this unprecedented time.”

These are the guidelines for the initial phase of the gradual reopening of the recreation areas along the Okeechobee Waterway, based on the need for continued social distancing and other safety practices:

W.P. Franklin North
The campground, restrooms and boat ramp will be open for camper use only, while the fishing pier remains closed until further notice.

W.P. Franklin South
The day use picnic sites, restroom and boat ramp will reopen, while the Visitor Center, group shelters, lock viewing area and playgrounds remain closed until further notice.

Ortona North
The boat ramp has remained open, and the day use picnic sites and restroom will reopen, though the large group shelters will remain closed until further notice.

Ortona South
The campground and restrooms will reopen for camper use only, while the group shelter and fishing pier will remain closed until further notice.

St. Lucie Recreation Area
The campground, restrooms, boat ramp and picnic sites will reopen, and the St. Lucie gate will remain open to continue to allow access to the boat ramp. The Visitor Center, group shelters, lock viewing area and playground will remain closed until further notice.

Camping
• No visitors to campsites, other than campers with a reservation, will be permitted during this phase of operations.

• Campground gates at W.P. Franklin North and Ortona South will remain closed at all times. Campers will receive gate lock code information when they make their reservations, and for their protection, the gate lock and high-touch areas will be cleaned at regular intervals throughout the day.

• All reservations or changes to reservations will be made on the recreation.gov reservation system online or by phone at 877-444-6777. There will be no “walk up” reservations or cash or credit card transactions at public entrance stations or other locations on site during this phase of operations, for the safety of our volunteers.

• Volunteer camp hosts will staff campground offices during normal duty hours and will maintain social distancing while directing campers to their sites or instructing them on the reservation-only process. Phone numbers will be provided at check-in so campers may maintain social distancing if they require assistance.

• The COVID-19 situation will be monitored and evaluated on an ongoing basis. Any changes to recreational operations will be announced to the public via a news release and social media posts, as well as signage on site.

Restrooms
• The capacity of restrooms will be clearly posted at all facilities to ensure social distancing is maintained for the safety of campers and visitors.

• Restroom facilities will be cleaned in accordance with CDC guidelines and signage will be displayed to promote hand washing using CDC guidelines.

Day Use
• Facilities remaining closed during this initial phase of operations will be clearly posted and marked.

• Rangers in uniform will educate visitors on maintaining the proper group size of less than 10 people and social distancing to promote adherence to CDC guidelines for the safety of all.

Amendments to this plan will take place as we move in to the next phase of reopening, or if conditions require us to reenter a passive use or closed phase. Any changes to recreational operations will be communicated to the public via a news release and on social media.

All corps visitor centers in South Florida remain closed until further notice, including all tours and interpretive programs. The public will be notified when the visitor centers and associated programs are reopened as part of the future reopening phases.

While visiting corps recreation areas, visitors are encouraged to practice social distancing and other COVID-19 safety precautions required and recommended by local, state and federal authorities, to include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC guidance on visiting parks and recreation facilities can be found online at cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/visitors.html.

Visitors are advised that individual corps recreation areas may be closed again if it is determined that COVID-19 safety precautions are not being followed and the public could be put at risk as a result. We ask visitors to help us keep the recreation sites open by recreating responsibly.

Though many sections of the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail (LOST) remain temporarily closed through 2022 due to ongoing Herbert Hoover Dike Rehabilitation construction, including culvert replacement and cutoff wall construction, the public may still access some areas of the trail for recreational purposes. When hiking on the LOST, visitors are asked to please observe all signage and do not enter construction areas, and maintain social distancing from other hikers for your safety. An updated map of the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail construction closures and estimated dates for reopening is available at: saj.usace.army.mil/LOST.

According to the Florida Department of Health, visitors should be aware that water from areas with blue-green algae can make animals and people sick, and they should stay away from these areas. This algae is blue, bright green, brown or red, and can have a strong odor like rotting plants. People who are very sensitive to smells may have respiratory irritation. If you come into contact with blue-green algae, get out of the area and wash off with soap and water. See your doctor if you think blue-green algae has made you sick.

Get more information from the Florida Department of Health on blue-green algae online at floridahealth.gov/environmental-health/aquatic-toxins/harmful-algae-blooms/index.html,

More information on Jacksonville District COVID-19 response actions can be found at saj.usace.army.mil/coronavirus.

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