How Will N.H. State Parks Look Different This Summer? | New Hampshire Public Radio

How Will N.H. State Parks Look Different This Summer?

Jun 17, 2020

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We discuss what this summer will look like for New Hampshire's state parks amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. While record numbers of Granite Staters are heading to the parks to seek out local recreation, new social distancing guidelines and other protocols mean that the experience will be different this year. We chat with the state parks director about how he and his staff are preparing. 

Air date: Thursday, June 18, 2020. 

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Resources

To make a reservation, visit the NH State Parks website or call 1-877-647-2757. 

Transcript

  This is a computer generated transcript and may contain errors. 

Laura Knoy:
From New Hampshire Public Radio, I'm Laura Knoy, and this is The Exchange. New Hampshire state parks will receive a lot of love this summer as many residents follow the prevailing advice to stay local. But don't expect the same experience as in years past. Given that social distancing means keeping crowd sizes down, that that means you must reserve a spot in advance. In fact, state parks director Phil Bryce says, if you don't have a reservation, don't come. Today on the Exchange, summer 2020 at our parks. The extra demands upon them as Granite Staters seek respite amid new requirements. And State Parks Director Phil Bryce joins us this morning. And Director Bryce, welcome back. Great to have you.

Phil Bryce:
Thank you, Laura. It is nice to be back.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and you don't need me to tell you this, Director Bryce, Granite Staters love their parks. They go to their favorites every year. Many of us went to certain parks as kids and then we brought our own kids. What are you hearing from the public this year, Director Bryce, in terms of just how they're feeling about their state parks?

Phil Bryce:
Well, I would say their behavior has been the big message to us. We have seen in March when we're just normally starting to open up our parks, we saw unprecedented visitation. So like at Monadnock, the same amount of visitation that we actually were getting on a beautiful fall day. So it was quite a challenge for us. But we saw a lot of families out. People just wanted to be outdoors. And I think what it told us was I think was best said Pennsylvania State Parks sent out a note and I think it captured it really well. In these times of mental, physical and economic distress, our direct access to nature and its proven restorative properties is more important to us and more worthy of safeguarding than ever. So people, when our whole society was stressed out. What did we do? We went outdoors.

Laura Knoy:
Wow. Not a bad thing for a state parks director, but of course, then you had to keep the crowds from getting too big. What happened over the spring with this Director Bryce? How did you manage that at super popular places like Monadnock?

Phil Bryce:
Well, the declaration of emergency was issued by the governor and then the president on March 13th. And we at Monadnock, for example. We saw about 400 cars on the 21st. Which means about a thousand people. And keep in mind, they're funneling into basically one trailhead at the main entrance. And so that's 400 cars. Right now our capacity that we're allowing under a reservation system is 200 cars. And so without that reservation system and expanding it to all the use, we just would have been overwhelmed. And it's just very difficult for people to socially distance, especially right in the middle of the trail. And, of course, in the restroom facilities, which we've maintained and kept open for people. So they had a place to to use and they could, you know, better enjoy the experience. So we in response, we were fortunate several years ago, we put an enterprise system in that did allow us the option of having reservations, allowing for reservations to control the crowds. And so we actually started that up on the 21st and started with Monadnock. And then as we opened our trail parks, went to Miller, on to you know, eventually onto Rollins to Bear Broch to Pawtuckaway and just to be able to control the numbers of people because people were just desperate to be out and and we had to make sure our staff and our visitors were safe by controlling the numbers of people.

Laura Knoy:
How does that feel to you, Director Bryce, because you just read that beautiful quote about people needing nature more than ever. On the other hand, you're not supposed to have large crowds, so you're having to turn people away.

Phil Bryce:
Well, we're going to have to turn them away anyway. You know, we do fill up, and we have to turn people away or they end up waiting at the park and waiting to see if they can get in. And they're clogging up the roads, you know, and parking on the highways illegally. They're getting ticketed. They're in front of people's driveways. And it's just not a good situation for not only the visitor, but also for the community. And so we have since that March date, we have done over twenty thousand reservations. Representing probably 50000 visitors or more. And I would add most of the people are, you know, I'd say 98 percent of the people that are our visitors are glad to know that they're going to be able to get into the park when they get there. That assurance. And if you travel, especially globally, where you have a limit on capacity, like if you want to go to a museum in Europe, chances are you need to make a reservation in advance for many museums. And it's just where we have a limited capacity in order to protect the resource as well as the experience where, you know, everyone is using reservations. Campgrounds at best example, people have accepted campground reservations for years. You know, imagine people showing up with all their camping gear, trying to, you know, loading up all your gear and then going to a campground and finding out that it's full. You know, that's very discouraging. So we're very fortunate that we had that system in place. Other states didn't. And they were really, really struggling.

Laura Knoy:
So people are used to the idea, obviously, of, as you just said, making a campground reservation. But I was surprised to learn and this is good for everybody to know that if I want to, you know, spend just a couple hours in the afternoon at Clough State Park, which isn't that far from my house, I'm going to have to reserve, even if it's just a couple hours, you know, hanging out at Clough.

Phil Bryce:
Yeah, and you know, as time goes on, we may be able to adjust that system. But again, we're in a national state of emergency. And, you know, there are people with family members that have passed away because of this illness.

Laura Knoy:
More than a hundred thousand people have died nationally.

Phil Bryce:
And that is like really, really scary. And so we are taking a very, very conservative approach to start out with because we don't want to be responsible for somebody losing a family member or themselves. And certainly if we have our staff contract the disease, it could mean the park shuts down anyway. So and I think our visitors have to kind of remember that one of the benefits of this, you know, for many people has to realize that we are in this together. You know, we are we are more closely knit with our fellow human being than we really realize we were. And this has kind of brought that to bear both in terms of our actions having impacts on others in a way that we've never seen before. But also what we're finding is how important the company of another person is to us and our friends and our neighbors and not being able to see them. And so we just don't want to put that all at risk. So as time goes on, we may be able to say that, you know, you don't need a reservation, you know, during the midweek for certain parks. But we need to sort of start off and be a little bit conservative. And then you do know, you know, that you're going to be able to get there and for parks that are full, we might be able to increase the capacity by folks being able to reserve for the morning or the afternoon so that you can spend a few hours and then somebody else has the opportunity, you know, later in the you know, later in the day. So we're still working through it. But overall, the staff was especially at the parks that opened up early on were really, really worried about their own health. And we had one of our park managers who is caring for two elderly relatives at home, and she was in the park working.

Laura Knoy:
So she doesn't want to pick it up and bring it home, and so this relates to something that I've heard you say a lot, Director Bryce, please help us keep the parks open. I've heard you quoted saying that many times. What's the role, then of the visiting public in helping to keep the parks open? You sound prepared to shut things down if, well, if people don't follow the dictates of social distancing and so forth.

Phil Bryce:
Yeah, we certainly don't want to be forced into that situation because we don't have any staff available and we're there to protect the visitors and our staff. And so people need to look at that experience a little bit differently than they have. Not a lot. But of course, you know, please make a reservation and understand that it's not something like we came up with to do because we wanted to make people's lives difficult. We're doing it so we can can keep our parks open. So just make a reservation, feel free to contact us if you have any difficulties. Be nice to the staff. I mean, one of the things that please be kind to the staff, even if you're upset. You know, we've heard a lot, you know, that the folks in the health care providers, amazing first responders, amazing in terms of their efforts through this. And we're just extraordinarily grateful to them for what they've done. But I think we do have to remember the folks that are in the grocery stores, you know, and our folks in the park system, they're out there working when many other folks are, you know, working from home. Many of the state agencies, their staff are working from home on their computers. And our staff are right out there cleaning up, you know, cleaning pit toilets, cleaning restrooms, interacting with the public to make sure they're safe. So please, please treat them with respect. I just want to make the point that we had a hiring freeze because that made perfect sense because of the impact on state revenues and spending freeze. And at the beginning of that, we didn't have enough staff to operate the parks and keep opening them up. So our office staff here from our Concord office was going out into the parks on weekends and helping to check people in and clean pit toilets. So these people are really, really dedicated to providing this opportunity to the public. And so please, please, you know, make a reservation and and treat them with respect. And then a couple other things. Wear a mask when you're close to other people, when you're gonna be around other people that aren't in your group. It just makes such a big difference. It's a small thing, but it can make a big, big difference. You know, in restrooms and in areas where you get close to others and then just generally, again, going back to the original point, care about others, you know, just think about others a little more than maybe you have in the past and be understanding. And obviously, you know, keep your distance and if you're sick, just please, you know, stay home if you're not feeling well, because we don't want to go backwards here.

Laura Knoy:
And that's the advice that we're hearing all over the place. And Director Bryce, here's an e-mail from Becky. I'd like to know what the New Hampshire state parks plan to do to address the issues arising from increased demand from people that are not typical park users who may not know the basic rules of trail etiquette. I've noticed increased litter and damage to plant life on a recreational trail near my home, and I would assume state parks are having similar issues. Becky, thank you for writing in. And Director Bryce, what do you think?

Phil Bryce:
I think that's a really good point that we're seeing a lot of people that are out and hiking that maybe we haven't seen before. I've noticed just around town how many families are out walking on the side of the road. And then those families and others, you know, would say, well, let's go hiking. We've never really done that before. So it is an opportunity to connect people with the outdoors and to then help them begin to realize how important our public resources and the other you know, we have many organizations like the Ford Society, Audubon has trails and others of how important that outdoor outdoor space is. But trash is a, you know, people respecting their environment. You know, that's always an issue. And, you know, we can encourage people to be responsible. You know, enforcement is very, very costly and difficult and in most cases awkward. So we don't have, like, specific park rangers out there telling people what to do. Anything that we need to enforce regarding the rules in state parks, we have to, you know, it could be that high school kid is just reminding you, hey, can you just please pick up your trash? But I think it's a cultural thing. We do have to reach out to people and make sure they're aware of how to behave. Our first concern is that people will put themselves in dangerous situations. That was one of our key messages when we started out with March, was that we had a lot of people that were out hiking like Monadnock in March.

Laura Knoy:
Yeah, which can be tricky. Yeah. It's still winter up there.

Phil Bryce:
It's still winter and they're, you know, they're not prepared. And so not only we were in a situation where we have to do a rescue. We're pulling in, you know, the local fire and rescue away from doing other things. And then we're putting our staff at risk as they carry somebody out and we've had visitors step up and help, you know, get somebody off the mountain. And it's like, please don't, you know, please don't do that. You know, just be very, very thoughtful. Don't take any chances because it's going to take a lot of other resources to make sure that we can get you home safely.

Laura Knoy:
Yeah. That was the messaging we heard also this spring from New Hampshire Fish and Game and the White Mountain National Forest. You know, please don't do anything crazy because we don't want to send our rescuers out there to get you and put them at risk. But it keeps raising the question, Director Bryce, like some people who really want that vigorous, you know, all day hike aren't going to be happy, sort of, you know, walking around the flat little trail in town. You know what I'm saying, it's a tough position. We're telling people to get out and get exercise and be healthy, but not too much exercise and not too crazy.

Phil Bryce:
Yeah. Get out and do as much as you're prepared for. You know, physically and with gear, you know. So we're not discouraging people from challenging themselves necessarily. It's just do it appropriately, you know, make sure people know where you are. Make sure you know where you're going. You know, we had people going out into Pawtuckaway and just getting lost. And so now we've got to pull staff away to help find them again. You know, bring in other resources, fish and game and local to help find them and get them home. And so it's not that you can't do that, but maybe don't do this super difficult thing that you've always wanted to do. It's not a time to check off your bucket list right now. So, you know, that's the message. Again, it comes back to that. Think about your actions. And, you know, really, are you taking the full situation to account and being being considerate of others and not putting out stress on the resources.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and Director Bryce, Jack wrote in, Jack says now that people need to purchase tickets in advance, what do you do if you buy ahead and it rains or you aren't able to go the day you bought tickets for? That is a great question, Jack. And I would be displeased too, Director Bryce again if I reserve to spend the afternoon at Clough and then there was a thunderstorm.

Phil Bryce:
There is sort of a level of risk, I guess you would say, or sacrifice associated with operating in these new situations. It's not what it was. There are going to be downsides. No question about it. We're trying to keep the big downside from occurring, which is a shelter in place, you know, scenario. We're trying to keep that from happening. So it's not perfect. But we're you know, we're doing what we can. So the other choice is that you go. You wait. And, you know, you go to the park and it's full and you get turned away. Our other option is to say that 100th car gets to the park. And we say oh car hundred one, you can't get in. We turned 200 cars away from Monadnock one day, you know, at the beginning of the reservation system. You know, that's not happening like that now. So it's like you may not get into the park. So you have an assurance, you get into the park. However, if you're not sure about the weather and you're concerned, you know, probably other people, are. Our reservations, you can go to the park. We've been trying to make sure that our parks have as much Wi-Fi connectivity as they can. You can go to the park and make your reservation like right there. So there are some you know, obviously there'll be some parks where that can't occur. But most of them we spent the money to to get Wi-Fi access so people can say, yes, I've decided I want to go. Now if you bought bought your ticket and it rains, we're self operationally self-funded, you know, so that revenue that you've provided I think you'll get it back in some way in the future because we're able to invest back into the park system, both in terms of making our parks available and also continuing to improve them.

Laura Knoy:
Well, coming up, we will talk a lot more about how this will all work. And I also want to ask you, Director Bryce, what you're staff is focusing on right now. So we'll definitely talk about that. Also, making parks accessible to new audiences, people who might not have considered going to one of the state parks or didn't even know that they were there. So all that's coming up.

Laura Knoy:
This is The Exchange, I'm Laura Knoy. Today, Summer 2020 at State Parks. This spring, they've offered Granite Staters respite as we were encouraged to get outdoors but stay local. Now, as summer kicks into gear, so will requirements at the parks aimed at preventing, as we're hearing, spread of coronavirus. So today, on the Exchange, we're asking how the parks will try to stay accessible to all and what to expect if you do go. Our guest for the hour is Phil Bryce. He's the state parks director, and Director Bryce, how are all these new requirements, especially that you can only operate at half capacity, we've talked about the reservation system to keep the crowds down. How's that going to affect your budget, given that parks are self-funded, paid for through fees that people pay?

Phil Bryce:
Yeah, it is going to have a big effect where we're actually I'm a little relieved because we are up and operating. I was concerned we would be, you know, basically shut down when this all started, you know, for the entire summer. So we are collecting some you know, we are able to collect some campground fees. But to give a sense of scale, our campground program, you know, our campgrounds generate about, you know, roughly four million. And if we're a 50 percent, that's two million.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and Hampton Beach parking. Right, that generates a ton of money.

Phil Bryce:
Hampton Beach generates over two million. That brings us down to a million. We'll lose money operating Hampton Beach because it's so expensive to pay for the staff, for the maintenance crew and the lifeguards that we will at a million dollars, we would lose hundreds of thousands of dollars. And then the flume, we normally see up to 5000 people a day. Right now where we're at like maybe 400. And the Flume is our biggest single contributor to the park system that helps other parks operate. So it's going to be a big impact. You know, we're hopeful we might get some support for the lost revenue particularly associated with the seacoast. But we're you know, we're very concerned going forward because we don't want to just open up to generate revenue. That's, you know, the staff asked as well, if we did this, this would generate more revenue. I said that's not our priority. Our priority is keeping you and our visitors safe.

Laura Knoy:
You know, we talked earlier about the reservation system. You talked about make a reservation in advance, you know, trying to expand Wi-Fi capacity so that people can make a reservation, maybe if they're in the area of the park. What about folks, Director Bryce, who don't have Internet access or a smartphone or they're just not comfortable reserving online? I mean, are we going to have some digital haves and have nots here with this new system? Or do you have an old-fashioned phone number where a human being picks up and says, sure, you can go to Wellington this afternoon?

Phil Bryce:
Yeah, that's a good question, first I want to jump backwards and say, you can cancel your reservation up to nine o'clock on the day of your reservation. So if something happens, you know, early in the morning, your fee, your one dollar reservation fee that gets paid to the company that operates our reservation system for them to develop it, which they developed the system for us. So that's not refunded. But the day use fee is. And also keep in mind those day use fees, that four dollar day use fee, has not changed since 2010.

Laura Knoy:
Now, why is that Director Bryce? Four dollar entrance fee.

Phil Bryce:
Going through time, we've been able to support the park system and get us out of the deficit, but without increasing those fees. And we want to make our parks, even though we're self-funded operationally, as accessible as possible to people. So, you know, we'll be reviewing the fees going forward. But right now, we just said that's good because we don't want that to be a deterrent. So coming back to the people that don't have access to a computer, you know, there's two things. First of all, for most of the the area of concern that we've had about the reservation system is from people who get either our prepaid or get in for free, particularly seniors, because they expect to just be able to come into the park and get in and just because you have a season's pass or senior doesn't guarantee you get into the park.

Laura Knoy:
You still need to reserve because you need to keep the crowd sizes down.

Phil Bryce:
You need to reserve. But they say we shouldn't have to pay the dollar. And we had hoped people would understand that under this, the national and state emergency, that, you know, it might cost you a dollar to get into the park. But a lot of people just don't think that's fair. So we have set aside a certain number of spots in the park for people that are seniors or have seasons passes or license plates to be able to get into, you know, to be able to access the park. But once those fill up, we're not allowing them to get in. They could make a reservation on the spot if we still have reservations available. But that's the same as if the park is normally operating.

Laura Knoy:
They have to follow the same rules as everybody else in terms of reservations.

Phil Bryce:
They could come to the park. Right. They come to the park and it could be full. So it's full, but it's full, you know, for those particular allocate spaces.

Laura Knoy:
So is there a phone number, though, for people, you know, again, the digital have nots?

Phil Bryce:
Yeah, they can call our call center. There's a call center that they can actually call online. And I'll provide that number in a minute. So, it's 1-877-647-2757. That's 1-877-647-2757.

Laura Knoy:
And if you're driving down the road, we're going to put that number on our Website, NHPR.org/exchange. So don't worry if you didn't catch that number, because we'll put it on our Website. And also, we have links to the reservation system. So if you're thinking about making a reservation for the weekend or whatever, we've got it there as well. Director Bryce, I want to take a call. This is Nancy in Franconia. Hi, Nancy. You're on the air. Welcome.

Caller:
Hi. Great topic of conversation.

Laura Knoy:
Good. Go ahead. Nancy.

Caller:
My request my ask is that there's a lot of new people out on the trail and there's a lot more people out on the trail. My property backs up to a trail. And we love that. But there's a lot more people out there and a lot more people with dogs. So I don't know if they could do a public service announcement or make up signs. Just get the word out about two things with dogs. When your dog poops, put it in a bag. You have to take the bag with you. Don't just leave it on the side of the trail. There's not a crew that comes along to clean it off at the end of the day. And also reminding people that their dogs need to be leashed or under really, really good voice command. Because with all the dogs on the trail, there gets to be some canine kerfuffles. And we just want to keep everybody safe and happy. So those are my two requests as a land owner and as a hiker with the dog.

Laura Knoy:
Nancy, thank you so much for calling in. And Director Bryce, I know you and I have talked about dogs on trails before. Am I correct that dogs are not allowed on state beaches, but they are allowed on state trails? Is that correct?

Phil Bryce:
Yes, that's correct. With the exception of like Monadnock where there are just so many people, but many of our trails, like up in Rollin's on Kearsarge, you know, those dogs are permitted. So we try to accommodate the dogs as much as possible. In fact, one of our rules says if you're out the middle of nowhere and there's nobody around. You don't have to have your dog on a leash. But the minute you are coming in contact with other people, the dog needs to be on the leash. And obviously, you need to clean up after your dog. It's increasingly becoming an issue for us. You know, we're getting more and more complaints about it. And your dog may be wonderful, but not everybody is comfortable around dogs. And so you need to take that into account. They could be nervous. They don't know your dog. And, you know, and then you have dog on dog interactions. And then there is an issue of just health. You know, you can't have, you know, hundreds of dogs on a trail and and not be picking that up because we don't want to have to go to not allowing dogs at all because people are not walking their dogs responsibly. I much prefer to have my dog off leash. You know, it's just better, the dog gets worn out more and is better behaved than being on a leash. And we all know that. But it's you know, you have to consider you're in a public space and we all have a shared responsibility towards ensuring that experiences is right for everyone and also environmentally sound.

Laura Knoy:
Well, sure. And dog waste is a water quality problem and so on. It's interesting. Director Bryce, you know, while I'm listening to you talk and hearing from Nancy, it's almost like the many conversations that we've had over the years over sharing the outdoors and some of the conflicts that come up with dogs and horses and, you know, motorized versus non motorized and so forth. We could see that amplified this year given that, as Nancy says and you have said, there's a lot more people out there in the parks.

Phil Bryce:
Yeah, there are. And you brought up you know, we have less experienced people and people that don't understand park etiquette. And I think there's something about the parks and outdoor experience. You know, people are under so much stress in their lives anyway and then we put this on top of it. And when you go to the park, you just want to just relax. And you're a little bit more sort of focused on your own experience. And so you're not maybe thinking of others because you say geez, here's my moment to get my head back together.

Laura Knoy:
Yeah, I got one day off. I'm spending it at the park, it just needs to be perfect.

Phil Bryce:
So you're a little bit more self-centered than you are normally, I think. You know, that's our experience. And people deserve that. I mean, they work so hard, are under so much stress. And that's what we're about. But we just need folks to just sort of step back just for a second and say yes. But the other people that are on the trail are in the same situation I'm in.

Laura Knoy:
Well, Nancy, it's great to hear from you. And here's an e-mail from Michelle who says, I have a state parks plate so I can go hike Kearsarge often. Michelle says right now, the only time this park is open is on the weekends when there are a lot of out of staters. Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey. Is there a plan to open these parks during the week so that we can hike without the trails being very crowded? Also, in terms of state park license plates, Pam also e-mails and says, I purchased a state park license plate. Can you please explain my access to state parks this year? Will I still have to make a reservation? So if you could address the license plate issue first, Director Bryce. And then the specific question about, you know, Rollins being open just on the weekends.

Phil Bryce:
Yes, we're encouraging you to make a reservation if you have a state parks plate. You can take the chance like you normally do to show up at the park. And for those spaces that are set aside. But we're encouraging you to spend the extra dollar to make a reservation. We have over a million visitors to our state parks and our day use revenue is in the order of maybe, you know, six million dollars. And so if we were to spend a million dollars to cover all those one dollar reservations, that's a pretty big chunk of our total revenue into our day use parks. So we're just asking that, you know, that, you know, make a reservation, pay the dollar, and then you're assured that you're going to get into the park when it's available. We'll continue to keep a spot set aside for you, you know, a lot of this, you know, in talking to staff, they say, why do we have to do that, they should have to make a reservation? I said, no, we need to account for folks that just want to come to the park, take their chances and get a spot. So regarding the second question, yes, we are trying to get enough staff to operate our parks. We started a couple of months late gearing up for hiring. There's people that are nervous about coming back to work, especially in a job where they're interacting with the public. And then on top of that, you know, there's people who have kids at home. And so they can't come back because they need to be at home to take care of their kids during the week.

Laura Knoy:
Wow so you've got some staff shortages going on there, Director Bryce.

Phil Bryce:
We've got tremendous staff shortages. At the seacoast, for example, we're short 30 just in the maintenance crew. Our lifeguards, we were able to staff up, which is great. They have an outstanding program. We usually get 15 J1 students from overseas that didn't come. They weren't able to come. So we're short 30 people on maintenance. We've been able to make up for some of it by hiring contractors. But that's much more expensive to help with the trash and also cleaning restrooms. And then the last point, of course, is with the unemployment benefits, the way they are, some people aren't quite yet motivated to get out and and find work. You know, again, because they're concerned about being in a workplace.

Laura Knoy:
So in terms of opening up during the week, it sounds like you've got some pretty severe staff shortages that are going to prevent you from doing that at some parks.

Phil Bryce:
Well, our plan is to continue to open them as soon as we get the staff available where we want to open. We do have to be a little bit sensitive to the revenue and cost side of things. So, you know, we might try to figure out a way to make some of the parks open, but it may not be staffed and we just have somebody check on them. So they're still available. But where they get crowded, we have to have staff there to check people in to make sure that, you know. You know, social distancing is complied with. And then if we have our restrooms open, they require really frequent cleaning. They require up to every two hours of going in and cleaning and checking, making sure hand sanitizer is available. Soap dispensers are full and and wiping the surfaces that people are touching.

Laura Knoy:
Well, here's an email from Julie who says, We had a great time at Greenfield State Park over Memorial Day. The park manager, Alec, was great and stopped by several times to make sure we had everything we needed. We love that park. So there's someone who made a reservation, went to the park and had a great time. Stay with us. We'll be right back.

Laura Knoy:
This is The Exchange. I'm Laura Knoy. Today, summer 2020 at New Hampshire state parks, the respite Granite Staters are seeking this year at our parks, and the requirements parks are putting forward due to the Coronavirus Exchange. We're talking for the hour with Phil Bryce. He's State Parks director, and Director Bryce, let's go right back to our listeners. Nancy's calling in. Go ahead. Nancy, you're on the air. Welcome.

Caller:
Thank you for your program. I happily live within a thousand feet of a park here, and I am 75 years old with a partial paralysis to my right side. So I use a cane. And unhappily, as I'm walking to and from and around in the neighborhood and park, people come towards me and do not step down to the appropriate distance. And just the other day when I was walking, two very tall, lovely girls who had no masks on walked on the sidewalk. Each one of them on either side of me. I was just shocked that they were not social distancing. They did not have masks and they were not respecting my condition.

Laura Knoy:
Well, Nancy, I'm really sorry that happened to you and, you know, I hear the nervousness in her voice, Director Bryce. She's older. She's vulnerable. She walks with a cane. So it's harder for her to make that move, to step aside and keep that six feet apart. What do you think about Nancy's call? Nancy, thank you for calling in.

Phil Bryce:
Yeah. Two thing, it comes back to. First, you know, we have to control our capacity and if there's other ways to do it than a reservation system, we'd be glad to do that because then that allows the space, for example, out at the seacoast at North Beach where the seawall is. If you're familiar with that, there's head-in parking and the sidewalk is not that wide. And so it'll be very difficult to socially distance on that site walk for a couple of people going in opposite directions. We're looking at urning that head-in parking into parallel parking on the street and widening that space. So there's more space for people to socially distance. And it won't be cheap to do that. We've got to come up with barriers to do that. But we're trying to do what we can in our parks to allow people to socially distance, you know, making one way traffic, know, for example, in some of our restrooms, making family restrooms. So we're trying to do what we can to set up the park to allow social distancing. But it does come down to behavior. And I know our staff out at the seacoast was very frustrated because we are at 50 percent parking capacity and we have parking spots closed off. People were getting out of their vehicles, moving the stanchions out of the way and and parking in those spots.

Laura Knoy:
Wow.

Phil Bryce:
You know, they're just doing it. And one of our regional managers saw somebody and he looked and looked at her with a guilty look and then put the thing back and then moved on. But, you know, what does it take for people to really realize what's going on here?

Laura Knoy:
It sounds like it's gonna be could be stressful for your staff this summer. Director Bryce, with people just really desperate to get into the parks and, you know, it's going to be a hot weekend and maybe they didn't get a chance to make a reservation and then they get there and they can't get in. I'm anticipating they might have to deal with some conflicts.

Phil Bryce:
Yeah, the staff has been absolutely amazing in the way that they've stepped up. You know, the field staff in particular, but also the office staff, because we'll take we're getting like hundreds of calls a day and, you know, a lot of more questions that we help people out. But then some people are calling to complain. And it's been really tough on them and very stressful on them. But they're sticking with it. And they try to be helpful to people, explain, you know, explain what's going on. And it's not a lot of people that are rude. But, you know, just in general, as I started off, you know, these folks are doing their best. And under where we are. And we shouldn't take out our frustration regarding this virus on the staff that's trying to do their best to serve them and make the parks available.

Laura Knoy:
Let's take another call. Nancy, thank you for that one. And Diane is in Manchester. Hi, Diane. You're on the air. Welcome.

Caller:
Hello? Can you hear me?

Laura Knoy:
Sure can, Diane, go ahead.

Caller:
Ok, great. I was just calling because I've had multiple reservations to camps Pawtcuckaway I made last fall, November, December, and they've all been canceled. And I didn't know what the algorithm was because I'm trying to find out any information, is that park open, and why were my reservations canceled over anyone else's? We could have gone to private campgrounds instead. I'd prefer to go you know where I already has a nice lakefront reservation. So I'm just curious what the algorithm was and what the status was of that campground.

Laura Knoy:
Oh, Diane. Thanks for calling. And here she is doing the right thing, Director Bryce, making reservations way in advance so she gets that waterfront site. Yeah, I'm sorry to hear that, Diane. Can you answer the general question that she's asking, Director Bryce?

Phil Bryce:
Yeah. So campgrounds when we started this weren't even allowed to be opened. So we were in the position where camping was going to be starting up in May, in particular, our campgrounds start opening. So what do we do? We didn't want to cancel unnecessarily, but at the same time, we didn't you know, people wanted to know. It was a very difficult spot to be in. So first of all, we weren't allowed and I didn't think we'd be opening campgrounds this summer. We didn't cancel the whole summer, but I didn't think we'd be opening this summer. So what we did is we canceled reservations. Many of the reservations into June. And because, you know, we were uncertain if we were gonna be open. On top of that, we haven't been able to open Pawtuckaway because we need to have adequate staffing. Also, we didn't have the staffing. And also we have to deal with the day use versus the beach. We can't open the campground at 50 percent and even have a limited number of people on the beach day use. So we are trying to figure that out because there's just so much there. There just so many people that come in there. So the campground and White Lake are two of the parks that we're actually starting to allow camping this coming weekend. So reservations can be made. So that's reservations in June. We have not canceled our reservations in July and August for the rest of the year. We're working on trying to honor all of our reservations throughout the rest of the summer. It's all been complicated by the fact that campgrounds could open at 50 percent and we weren't allowing people from out of state. So we have to take all those things together. So going forward, our hope is that we'll be honoring all of the existing reservations, if we can. Obviously, if we have camp sites that are right on top of each other, we're going to have to do something. And it may require a cancellation if that campground is at 100 percent. But we're going to do the best that we can to accommodate. I would point out, though, that when we did cancel, we refunded people their money, but we also stepped up and paid for their reservation fee that they paid to make the reservation, which is like six dollars and fifty cents. And that's been thousands of dollars that we've, you know, given back to our campers, which is an expense we normally don't have. We did away with the requirement to cancel, you know, a couple of weeks in advance. We've been doing the best we can. But again, if you've got a reservation in July and August and the rest of the year, we're hoping we're able to figure out a way to honor that. And then we'll see if we can open up to accept additional reservations based on the existing ones.

Laura Knoy:
Well, here's an email from Brian who says are reservations required for smaller trailheads at Monadnock like Marlborough and Dublin? And just to let listeners who may be new to the state or don't know, you know, that much about Mt. Monadnock. There's a lot of trail entrances, Director Bryce. So Brian's wondering about some of those smaller trailheads.

Phil Bryce:
We don't require reservations. Those are actually on I think, on the Forest Society property. So we only are at the main entrance and at the old tollroad is where you need a reservation. But what we run into is people going to the other trailheads and then they end up parking on the roads and then people park on the roads and they block emergency vehicles. But those are available. You don't have to make reservations for those other locations. At least not at this point.

Laura Knoy:
Here's a question from Tom on Facebook. Getting lots of questions from people about how the reservation system works. So that's great. Tom on Facebook says, If I were to go for a trail run at Bear Brook State Park or another park, do I need to make reservations at that park, though I may only be there for an hour or so? Tom, I'm glad you wrote, because I think a lot of people have this question. You know, some people going to a state park is like a whole day thing. But other people who live close to state parks, they might pop over there for an hour or Bear Brook isn't that far from our house. So we might go over there and go mountain biking for two hours. What about those sort of shorter, more casual uses of the state parks that a lot of people have?

Phil Bryce:
Yeah, yeah. Which is great. I mean, to have access to that, the park like that on a daily basis to go running is great. You know, historically, a lot of people use the park on a regular basis. They've gotten a state park license plate. And so if you're going there daily, I would certainly recommend doing that.

Laura Knoy:
But you still need to make a reservation, even with the license plate.

Laura Knoy:
But you still need to make the reservation. Yes. And we're gonna be toying with the future again. If the reservations are sold out, then you can't go do your run that you've been doing every day for years. Yeah, that's very, very frustrating. So at the flume, for example, we actually have hourly reservations. So you have to reserve for an hour. And that way we can actually increase the number of people that are able to go to the park and hike the flume, which is absolutely gorgeous. And so that's something we may look at going forward is providing for more timed entrance during the day. And as I said, if we're able to sort of get things under control, and we're not seeing our parks inundated by folks as people get back to work and start doing other things, that it might be that at certain times of the week, we may say you need a reservation on weekends and Fridays and Mondays and holidays, but not during the week. We just need to evaluate that. But right now, we want to sort of see what's going on because we're not even in the thick of the season yet. You know, we have yet to see what's going to happen when we hit July and August.

Laura Knoy:
So it sounds like you will be inundated given you know, given what we're hearing from listeners and given, again, that everybody's being told to stay local. And, you know, we all know people who had big trips planned this summer and those got canceled. So I think you will be seeing a lot more people than you have in the past, although you're only allowed to accommodate 50 percent of them. So that's sort of the contradiction that you're you're working under. I want to take one more call. This is Peggy in Hollis. Hi, Peggy. You're on the air. Welcome.

Caller:
Hi. I just want to give a shout out to all of the state park system. We camped at Bear Brook a couple of weeks ago. First venture out. We were a little kind of cautious, but I have to tell you, we felt completely safe. The staff was terrific. There was curbside pickup for I ran out of batteries. I just called and there I got my batteries handed out the window when I walked by. And so I know it's a tough time, but our parks are great.

Laura Knoy:
Peggy, thank you very much. It's a lovely phone call and Director Bryce, something she said about picking up the batteries. You know, just grab and go. That's something else that's going to hit your revenue, isn't it, Director Bryce, you can't just go in the store and browse around. You go in for a Coke and you end up seeing a T-shirt. So you get that too, you know what I mean?

Phil Bryce:
Yeah. Yeah. Oh, absolutely. Right. Yeah. But you know, the retail area at the flume is open and we limit the number of people that can be in that retail area. But some of our smaller campgrounds like the store at Bear Brook, you just can't put more than like two people in there and maintain social distancing. So. But, yeah. We miss that sort of on the spot buying. But our important thing, of course, is safety, but then providing our visitors with the things they need.

Laura Knoy:
Well, it sounds like Peggy got what she needed. Yeah. Last question for you, Director Bryce. Real quickly, what's the main message you want to convey to Granite Staters as they start thinking about the parks? It's gonna be hot this weekend. July is around the corner.

Phil Bryce:
Yeah. It goes back to that. Just do those things that we're asking, not just us, but the state is asking you to do to help keep the parks open.

Laura Knoy:
Again, that means maintain social distancing, maintain respectful behavior towards the staff and so on.

Phil Bryce:
And wear your mask when you're using that restroom facility. And also, if you see something you don't like, please send us an email or give us a call because if it's something we need to know about and get taken care of, we need to have the opportunity to do that.

Laura Knoy:
All right. Well, Director Bryce, it's been good to talk to you. Thank you very much.

Phil Bryce:
Thank you.

Laura Knoy:
That's Phil Bryce. He's the director of New Hampshire's State Parks. The Exchange is a production of New Hampshire Public Radio. Our engineer is Dan Colgan. Our executive producer is Michael Brindley. Our senior producer is Ellen Grimm. Our fellow is Jane Vaughan. Our producers are Jessica Hunt and Christina Phillips. Thanks for being with us. I'm Laura Knoy.