While Gov. Ron DeSantis issued the safer at home executive order Wednesday in hopes of keeping people safe from the coronavirus, the directive doesn’t change recently-implemented restrictions at local public parks and recreation facilities, local officials said.

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During the coronavirus outbreak, many people continue “going to places that are open and available,” Okaloosa County Public Works Director Jason Autrey noted Thursday.

For example, since all Gulf-front beaches in the county were closed in mid-March, some people have been traveling to the white sandy banks of rivers in the county’s central area.

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“Last weekend, (county staff) noticed a number of people pulling off roads where bridges go over creeks and rivers,” Autrey said.

One of those spots is the county-owned Cotton Bridge Park. It stands along State Road 4 west of Baker and provides access to the Blackwater River and its many large banks.

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“What you can do with your time is limited right now,” Autrey said. “People are looking for other things to do. Personally, I’ve noticed at home that there are many more people jogging and riding bikes. Hopefully, people will abide by the ’safer at home’ order.”

While Gov. Ron DeSantis issued the safer at home executive order Wednesday in hopes of keeping people safe from the coronavirus, the directive doesn’t change recently-implemented restrictions at local public parks and recreation facilities, local officials said.

Per the governor’s order, which takes effect 12:01 a.m. Friday and lasts until April 30, people are allowed to engage in “essential activities” but should stay at home otherwise.

Essential activities in the order include a broad range of activities such as attending religious services, participating in recreational actives like walking, running, biking, hiking, fishing or swimming, taking care of pets and caring for a family member or friend.

Social gatherings or any group of more than 10 people are not allowed in any public space. And the practice of social distancing by staying at least 6 feet apart from one another still is being highly emphasized.

While local officials certainly hope people obey those guidelines, they don’t see the safer at home order leading to further restrictions at local parks and recreation facilities.

For example, the County Commission in March agreed that restrooms, picnic pavilions and playground equipment at all county parks would be off limits to the public through April 30, while walking trails, open fields and boat ramps would remain accessible.

Those same restrictions and exceptions also are in place in various municipalities such as Fort Walton Beach and Crestview, although the Hub City does not have any public boat ramps.

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Addressing comments made via social media, Crestview City Manager Tim Bolduc said Thursday that the city never closed the track at Twin Hills Park.

The track, which runs around the multi-purpose field, remains open, as does the field as long as it is not used for football or other activities that involve large groups, he said.

Overall, Crestview residents are policing themselves and abiding by social distancing guidelines, Bolduc said.

Fort Walton Beach officials haven’t made any major changes yet in reaction to the safer at home order being issued, city spokesman Doug Rainer said.

“We still encourage people to stay off the playgrounds and use social distancing if they’re playing disc golf, tennis and pickleball,” he said. “If police see large groups, they will ask them to disperse because we are taking that very seriously.

“Our plan is to keep as many park amenities open as possible. We want to encourage all passive activities (such as walking) at our parks.”

While the city skatepark is not gated and cannot be locked, it is closed to the public, Rainer said.

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