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From the Middlesex Fells to the Esplanade, stir-crazy people take to the outdoors

People enjoyed Jamaica Pond on a pleasant day on Tuesday.Lane Turner/Globe Staff

In recent days, Pierce Haley and his daughter have sought escape from their increasingly claustrophobic home by strolling through parks in Hingham, Saugus, and Dover.

They weren’t the only ones.

“Everywhere we went, the parks were packed,” said Haley, 55, a Boston lawyer, while walking with his daughter on a recent afternoon around Jamaica Pond, which was relatively crowded despite a snow squall. “It’s concerning.”

With few places to go as nearly every other public venue has shut down, a surge of stir-crazy residents has been congregating in parks and forests throughout the region, raising concerns that the crowds — even in the great outdoors — could defeat the purpose of social distancing.


Men played soccer at LoPresti Park in East Boston on Tuesday. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Governor Charlie Baker’s stay-at-home advisory still allows residents to walk their dogs, stroll, or exercise in state and local parks. But Baker encouraged residents to stay at home and warned them to “avoid any unnecessary activities.”

“We are advising people to use common sense,” he said. “If you’re at the park, there should be no pick-up basketball and no activities or events that create the person-to-person contact we are seeking to eliminate. This spreads the virus.”

The state Tuesday afternoon said it would close athletic fields and courts, including basketball, tennis, and pickle ball, throughout the state parks system until at least April 7.

Over the weekend at the Middlesex Fells Reservation, where the main parking lot was full and many others parked illegally on a road outside the park, the trails were crowded with walkers and scores of people stood in clusters in a meadow, petting and throwing balls to their unleashed dogs.

At the Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in Concord, bird-watchers passed a brisk morning peering through long-lens cameras, while a steady flow of walkers, runners, and bikers passed by on a dirt path.


People walked at Weir Hill, a popular hiking area run by the Trustees of the Reservations in North Andover on Tuesday amid a posted closed sign. Jim Davis/Globe Staff

On the Esplanade along the Charles River on Sunday, Kathleen Fitzgibbon was walking with her husband. Fitzgibbon, 74, said the narrow ribbon of parkland seemed to be busier than ever, especially on weekdays.

“It’s hard to practice social distancing when it’s so crowded," said Fitzgibbon, who earlier that week was frightened enough by the crowds that she turned back home.

“This is not safe for me,” she remembered thinking.

While the Esplanade, a state park, remains open, the state Department of Conservation and Recreation has closed a host of other park facilities, including visitor centers, playgrounds, fitness areas, ice rinks, and bathrooms. Officials have also cancelled all department programming.

“DCR continues to stress the importance of state park visitors practicing social distancing, staying 6 feet away from others, and practicing healthy personal hygiene,” said Olivia Dorrance, a spokeswoman for the department.

On Monday, in deference to Baker’s advisory, the Trustees of Reservations, which maintains about 25,000 acres of parkland and other property in Massachusetts, decided to close all their outdoor properties, including Crane Beach in Ipswich and the World’s End park in Hingham. They had previously closed all indoor properties.

“All gates and parking lots will be closed, and all are asked to respect these closures in order to help slow the spread of this serious virus,” the group posted on its website.

In Boston, tot lots have been closed, with signs advising not to enter. But most parks remain open for “passive use,” such as walking and jogging, said Ryan Woods, the city’s commissioner of parks and recreation.


“Mayor Walsh announced all of this last week, so the governor’s advisory did not have an effect on park usage,” Woods said.

People were out strolling and jogging on Beacon Street in Coolidge Corner on Tuesday.Lane Turner/Globe Staff

Marc Lipsitch, a professor of epidemiology at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health and director of its Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, encouraged more people to get fresh air.

After New York Governor Andrew Cuomo over the weekend gave New York City a 24-hour deadline to come up with a plan to reduce what he called an alarming number of people gathering in local parks, Lipsitch called for sensible measures that allow people to remain outdoors.

“Lots of places are closing outdoor spaces, which seems terrible for mental health and fitness, and not obviously helpful for COVID blocking,” Lipsitch wrote on Twitter. “I was all for cancelling large parades … where people stay in close proximity for hours outdoors … but I’m also going on walks daily (at a distance from others) and assuming that [ultraviolet] light and ventilation outdoors vastly outweigh the density of other recreators.”

At Jamaica Pond, where city officials this week posted a sign telling walkers and runners to move clockwise around the 1.5-mile path to reduce people passing face to face contact, Emily Gordon, 37, of Brookline, said she had stopped visiting regularly.

“It was too crowded,” she said.

She had contemplated going to the nearby Blue Hills Reservation instead, but she had heard the trails there were packed as well. So she returned to the pond for a run on Monday afternoon, when the weather had turned stormy.


“I thought there would be fewer people, because it’s snowing,” she said.

A few minutes later, Brooke Chamberlain strolled by with a friend along the newly paved path. They were trying to maintain 6 feet of distance between each other, but that didn’t seem to be working out well as they carried on a conversation.

Chamberlain, 70, of Brookline, said she worried about what seemed like “a daily parade” around the pond, with many kids in tow.

Like many others, she has been taking walks there every day for exercise. Sometimes, when she has come with others, they try to walk single file to keep their distance.

“With so many people here, you have to dodge or weave around them,” she said. “We’re doing the best we can.”

Globe correspondent Lucas Phillips contributed to this report.

David Abel can be reached at david.abel@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @davabel.