Florida’s 175 state parks had been closed since March 23. While about 80 of them reopened Monday, some parks, particularly ones with ranger stations and more interaction between staff and visitors — such as Little Talbot and Anastasia in Northeast Florida — were not included in the first phase of reopening.


Paige Chiasson and her two girls, 4-year-old Natalee and 2-year-old Charlotte, were among the first people to arrive at Big Talbot Island State Park when its gates opened Monday morning for the first time in six weeks.


"I’ve been waiting for them to reopen the state parks so we could come out here," Chiasson said.


Chiasson, a stay-at-home mom who lives on the Northside, made the plans after Gov. Ron DeSantis held a press conference Friday at neighboring Little Talbot Island to announce a first phase of reopening of state parks.


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Florida’s 175 state parks had been closed since March 23. While about 80 of them reopened Monday, some parks, particularly ones with ranger stations and more interaction between staff and visitors — such as Little Talbot and Anastasia in Northeast Florida — were not included in the first phase of reopening.


The entrance to Big Talbot doesn’t have a ranger station. It has a self-serve kiosk with envelopes for entrance fees. The state also has set up an online site for pre-purchasing passes the day of a visit.


Big Talbot now is open from 8 a.m. to sunset, but only for "active recreation," such as walking, running, biking, swimming and fishing. And visitors are expected to maintain social distances of at least 6 feet between groups (of less than 10 people) — which wasn’t difficult Monday.


At 10:30 a.m., there were nine cars in the parking lot.


It was a "gorgeous day," Chiasson said, to make the one-third mile hike to the park’s driftwood-covered beach, even if the flies outnumbered the humans.


"They’re pretty bad, but that’s OK," she said. "This park in particular stays pretty quiet. It’s one of our hidden treasures."


By noon, there were 11 people on the mile-long beach. Near the north end, Bonnie Simons watched her 4-year-old grandson, Trip, play along the shore. They live on the Westside and chose to avoid other Duval County beaches and visit Talbot Islands.


"I wanted to go to Little Talbot — we went there a lot when I was a kid — but since it’s not open yet, we came here," she said. "It’s not developed with a bunch of shops. If you want peace and quiet, instead of going to a place like Jacksonville Beach, you come here."


As her grandson splashed through tidepools — proclaiming that they looked like giant footprints — Simons said she was just grateful to be outside on a day like this.


"Hopefully people will follow the rules so they don’t have to close the parks again," she said.


In announcing the reopening, DeSantis touted the state parks as places with low risk and high reward.


"When you’re talking about open spaces with appropriate social distancing, that is a very low-risk environment," he said. "It’s also high reward … because people can go out, they can get fresh air, they can get sunlight. It’s good for peace of mind."


If you’re thinking of heading to a park, check its status first.


City of Jacksonville parks reopened April 17. But in addition to the state parks that didn’t reopen in the first phase, many of America’s national parks — including local sites in the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve in Jacksonville and Castillo de San Marcos National Monument in St. Augustine — remain closed.


Cumberland Island National Seashore in Georgia took its first steps toward reopening Saturday, resuming public access to beaches, docks and trails. The ferry from St. Marys to the island has not resumed operations yet, though.


"This has been a very difficult time for our community, our families, and our world," Cumberland Island Superintendent Gary Ingram said. "The park is thrilled to be able to take this small step forward with the hope it will help provide some with an opportunity to find peace and joy in visiting the seashore."



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