Coronavirus has slammed the doors of schools, restaurants, malls, gyms and workplaces.
Yet thousands of Minnesotans have discovered the one thing it has not yet closed — parks.
A stampede of cooped-up parents and workers swarmed into city, county and state parks this weekend.
On Sunday, Afton State Park had more than 250 cars, with some parked illegally on roadsides. The park at Minnehaha Falls was jammed up, with parking overflowing into the nearby streets.
A spot-check of other metro showed the parking lots are nearly full — usually unheard-of in the dreary days of mid-March days.
“There are only two things to do — taking walks and making bonfires,” said Keley Kaszas of Cottage Grove, as she walked her dog at Ravine Park in Cottage Grove.
Chris Niskanen, spokesman for the state Department of Natural Resources, does not have a tally of people using state parks, but believes the park usage has surged.
“This is a great opportunity to enjoy nature — with caveats,” he said.
Anyone at a park should be mindful of the state’s health crisis — by maintaining a six-foot social distance and washing hands frequently.
The state parks are all open, but not the visitors’ centers.
Because of the rush, Niskanen said the Department can’t guarantee that all bathrooms will be open and fully supplied.
“We might not have toilet paper in all bathrooms,” he said. “And bring hand sanitizer.”
The park-walkers Sunday seemed to be keeping a hygienic distance from others — and were delighted to be re-discovering nature walks.
Ole Rapson of Minneapolis brought her daughters for a day-trip to Ravine Park in Cottage Grove.
Her husband, Sam, clutched a book listing 50 local walks to take. “It’s our ambition to take all of them,” said Rapson.
He said he was careful not to get too close to others, and has adjusted his social life accordingly.
“On Friday, I had a social-distancing happy hour,” he said. He invited neighborhood dads to a bonfire at which they drank beer, chatted — all the while maintaining a wary six-foot distance.
At the Old Cedar Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis, 10-year-old Maura McGuire was philosophical.
Taking a walk, McGuire said, wasn’t even close to as much fun as a trip to Disneyland.
That’s what her family was supposed to do this week. They even bought appropriate T-shirts — Mickey Mouse for her, Goofy for her dad.
The trip was scuttled after Disneyland closed.
“I was super-disappointed,” said Maura.
She’s making the best of it, with jig-saw puzzles and long walks across foot-bridges.
“The virus is nothing that I can change,” she said.
Her mom, Rachel McGuire of Bloomington, offered advice to virus-clobbered neighbors: “Just take it one minute, one hour, one day at a time.
“That’s all you can do.”
Here are ten walks in the Twin Cities for those needing to get some fresh air and stretch their legs. Remember, maintain a distance of six feet with everyone you meet.
-Vermillion Falls Park in Hastings, with foot-bridges over the thundering waterfalls. Parking lot is on U.S. Highway 61 at 21st Street E.
-The St. Croix River Bridge in Stillwater, for spectacular views of St. Croix River. Park along roadway off of state Highway 95, north of the bridge.
-Hidden Falls Park, Minneapolis, for a river-level hike along the Mississippi River, going upstream or downstream. Take Prior Avenue south from Mississippi River Boulevard.
-Old Cedar Avenue Bridge, Minneapolis, a charming old crossing over the Minnesota River. Park at north entrance, off Old Cedar Avenue S.
-Minnehaha Falls, Minneapolis, one of the more popular parks in the metro area. Take Hiawatha Avenue and turn east on Minnehaha Avenue.
-Robert Street Bridge, St. Paul. Hike a loop across the bridge, along Kellogg Boulevard, across the Wabasha Street Bridge, and east on Fillmore Avenue.
-Stone Arch Bridge, Minneapolis. Cross the bridge, then return on scenic Third Avenue Bridge.
-Lake Phalen, St. Paul. Parking is on Phalen Drive, north of East Wheelock Parkway.
-The famous Minneapolis chain of lakes — Harriet, Bde Maka Ska, Lake of the Isles. Paved walkways link the lakes.
-Keller Lake, St. Paul. Follow wooden walkway around lake to Gervais Lake. Parking is off U.S. Highway 61, south of Highway 36.