Vernon Township Mayor’s Updated Statement on the Coronavirus

Posted: April 8, 2020

My Vernon Family,

On Tuesday, April 7, Governor Murphy closed all county and state parks, “including lands under the Department of Environmental Protection’s jurisdiction.”

The governor stated that he had closed county and state parks and “other lands under the Department of Environmental Protection’s jurisdiction” as a result of actions by park goers that were “inconsistent with and threatens to undermine the social mitigation strategies necessary to limit the spread of COVID-19, creating risks to public health.”

He added that recent instances of non-compliance with social distancing guidelines have continued in the state parks, forests and other lands under the Department of Environmental Protection’s jurisdiction despite verbal warnings and orders to disperse gatherings, despite ejections from the parks, and despite the issuance of violation citations by law enforcement.

I am pleased and proud to say that the kind of arrogant, disrespectful, and uncaring behavior, plus the disregard for the rule of law that’s described in the governor’s comments above, is not at all what we have observed or experienced on the part of those Vernon Township residents who have used Maple Grange Park.

In fact, as I said in my last update, I and others who have focused on monitoring Maple Grange Park have concluded that park users are following the social distancing guidelines. And, when users have been observed interacting in a group, inquiries have found that they have been primarily family members using the park as a way of getting out of the house for some mental/emotional relief.

In addition, recently I have noticed that a growing number of those using the park are wearing masks or other types of face coverings.

I am attempting to find out, but don’t know at this time, if the governor’s order to close all state parks and “other lands under the Department of Environmental Protection’s jurisdiction” includes the Appalachian Trail.

Our efforts in conjunction with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and specifically the enhanced monitoring by the Vernon Police Department, has all but eliminated any traffic/walkers at the boardwalk section of the Appalachian Trail on Route 517. If the governor’s executive order does cover all portions of the Appalachian Trail in New Jersey, it would go a long way to helping us to eliminate the traffic and walkers at the other primary entry point to the Appalachian Trail that’s in our town—the “Stairway to Heaven” entry point off of Route 94.

As it relates to Maple Grange Park, let me be clear—

  • I have chosen to close the park’s fields, basketball court and playgrounds, and all other parts of the park to any group activity that can’t be undertaken without violating the group gathering and/or social distancing rules/guidelines. And, I have made this choice because of my responsibility to do what I can to keep Vernon residents safe, and to ensure that we as a town do our part to flatten the coronavirus curve by preventing/limiting its spread.
  • I have chosen to keep the park open for that large group of Vernon residents who daily use the park’s walking paths—while responsibly practicing social distancing—and others like them who use the park as a town resource for necessary outdoor mental, emotional and physical relief during these times when this virus has us all hunkered down in our homes.
  • If, for one minute, I receive evidence or otherwise come to believe that my decision to keep Maple Grange Park open contributes to the problem of keeping Vernon residents safe, or to ensuring that we as a town do our part to flatten the coronavirus curve by preventing/limiting its spread, I will close the park.

The threat that this coronavirus presents to us is quantified in the latest figures—

  • While Vernon Township does not, at this point in time, have the largest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the county—Andover has 51, Sparta has 50, Hopatcong has 40, and Newton has 39—through today, we do have 33, or 9% of Sussex County’s total.
  • Sussex County has 355 confirmed COVID-19 cases, or .7% of New Jersey’s total.
  • New Jersey has 47,437 confirmed COVID-19 cases, or 11% of our nation’s total of 425.107.

I know and understand that this virus is dangerous, out of control, and scary, however, I have no doubt that “we will overcome” this; and that “this too shall pass.”



Howard L. Burrell, Mayor