In this time of COVID-19 and “social distancing” (a new phrase we will not soon forget), Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s executive order to “Stay Home, Stay Safe” states that we are allowed to be outside for exercise and to walk the dog.
But what does that mean exactly? Are we allowed to “drive” somewhere to walk on an OMP trail? Are the Peninsula Township parks open? Will state and local police stop us and issue a fine of $1000 if we’re out driving around the neighborhood? Let’s dig into it…
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Yes, Peninsula Township Parks Are Open – For Now
The Peninsula Township parks and natural areas are currently open – but with limitations. At this writing, township residents are allowed to drive to the parks to exercise and to walk their dogs, but “people do need to keep a safe distance from others,” says Township Clerk Becky Chown.
“If we don’t do that, and if the (COVID-19) virus continues to spread, I believe we might see a new mandate from the governor altering the stay-at-home order to include parks,” she says. If you do visit the township parks, note that the toilet paper and hand sanitizer in the restroom facilities have disappeared, so bring your own. And as always, pick up after your pet.
Also, at this writing, Peninsula Township boat launches ARE open. However, this could change in the coming days, as the DNR shut down some boat launches in other counties, including Leelanau County, as of today.
Becky adds that all playground structures in Peninsula Township parks, including swingsets, slides, climbing equipment and play structures, are closed until further notice, as there is no way to sanitize and disinfect them.
Choose Trails Wisely for Social Distancing
Keeping all the above in mind, I will just add that it’s a good idea to choose wisely when you’re thinking about which OMP trails to hike. Some trails, such as those at Old Mission Point Park (trailheads at Murray Road, Ridgewood Road and Mission Point Lighthouse), offer a good amount of leeway to get off the trail and let someone pass within a safe distance.
Other trails, such as the one at Pelizzari Natural Area, are a little tighter in spots with less room to allow for passing at a safe distance. Walking around your neighborhood, depending on where you live, might be a better option for now. At least you can get on the other side of the road if someone is approaching.
One thing is clear. If you’re out driving around the Old Mission Peninsula, remember to practice social distancing, whether you’re on a trail or parked anywhere in a car. Here’s a video posted on Facebook today of people watching the sunset on Winery Hill (Chateau Grand Traverse). Too close? Social distancing in place? You decide.
Will We Be Fined $1000 for Driving Around?
The short answer is no. Read on…
As of yesterday, Michigan residents who violate Gov. Whitmer’s stay-at-home executive order could be fined $1000 and possibly even spend 90 days in jail. This mandate was issued yesterday as an Emergency Order from Michigan Department of Health and Human Services director Robert Gordon.
“A person can have coronavirus without knowing it,” Gordon said in a statement. “They can spread the disease to others who can spread it to others. The only way to stop the spread is social distancing. A civil penalty and potential licensing actions send a strong message to Michiganders that social distancing is essential to saving lives.”
This does not mean that state and local police are randomly stopping drivers and issuing $1000 fines. But as noted on the Grand Traverse County Sheriff’s Facebook page yesterday, “Everyone should stay home, avoid all non-essential travel, and practice social distancing when they must go out.”
The $1000 fine is an increase from the original $500 fine when Gov. Whitmer’s order was signed on March 23, 2020. The executive order, which mandates all Michigan residents to stay at home except to conduct “essential” business, is currently in place until April 13, 2020, but will likely be extended until at least April 30. On Sunday, the federal government called for Americans to stay home through the end of April and possibly through May and into June.
So, what exactly is classified as “essential”? Michigan residents are allowed to leave home to perform work allowed under the order; obtain food, including from grocery stores and restaurant takeout; obtain medical supplies or essential household goods, and more. Read more about what’s essential here, and read Gov. Whitmer’s full “Executive Order 2020-21 (COVID-19)” here.
Businesses that do not fall into the “essential” category and violate the order could also face additional penalties from their relevant licensing agencies. Churches and places of worship are exempt from the ban on large gatherings, a move that has drawn criticism for being “not only dangerous but also unconstitutional.”
Note that all churchs on the Old Mission Peninsula are currently closed until further notice. (OMP United Methodist Church, below, is now closed until further notice.)