People who don’t live near a state park, lake or river shouldn't travel far to get to one, and that includes the Brule River trout fishing opener on Saturday, a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources official said Wednesday.

While state agencies have issued a vague, often confusing mix of recommendations and rules to restrict travel and thwart public mixing during the COVID-19 pandemic, Sarah Hoye, communications director for the DNR, tried again Wednesday to clarify the state’s intentions.

When asked if residents of Duluth or Superior should drive to the Brule River on Saturday, about 30-40 miles, Hoye said the “short answer” to the question is “no.”

“Anglers are encouraged to fish water bodies in their communities,’’ Hoye said.

So far, however, the state has offered no geographic definition of community and no clarification of how far people can or should drive to recreate and still abide by the order.

Technically, however, Hoye said travel for close-by outdoor activities is allowed under the state’s new Safer at Home order enacted Tuesday by Gov. Tony Evers. The News Tribune reported Tuesday that recreational travel was not listed as permissible under the order. But on Wednesday Hoye corrected that, saying that under Section 11-e of the order, outdoor activity is considered essential and allowable.

According to the order, travel is allowed to “engage in outdoor activity, including visiting public and state parks, provided individuals comply with social distancing requirements. ... Such activities include, by way of example and without limitation, walking, biking, hiking or running. Individuals may not engage in team or contact sports such as by way of example without limitation, basketball, ultimate Frisbee, soccer or football, as these activities do not comply with social distancing requirements. Playgrounds are closed.”

“The intent of all this is for people to stay as close to home as possible. Stay in your community. Walk to the park, or if you have to, drive to the closest park. But don't drive across the state to go to a park. That’s not acceptable," Hoye said Tuesday.

Hoye said that, if you have to drive far to get there, or drive from another state, “that’s not your community.”

Meanwhile Cook County in Minnesota has added its name to the list of northern destinations that are asking outsiders, even if they own property there, to stay away. Bayfield, Sawyer and Ashland counties have issued similar notices. Koochiching County and the city of Baudette have closed parks and boat landings along the Rainy River asking anglers not to come north during the COVID-19 pandemic because rural health care facilities can’t handle a big influx of newly sick people.

St. Louis County officials on Wednesday also addressed the issue of non-residents traveling north at a news conference in Duluth, asking summer residents and other visitors to stay home and not come north until COVID-19 passes.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz declared a Shelter in Place type order Wednesday which allows "outdoor activities" including "walking, hiking, running, biking, driving for pleasure, hunting or fishing," but does not "exempt public accommodations that may feature outdoor activities from closure."

This story was updated at 4:51 p.m. (March 25) with additional information about Gov. Tim Walz's executive order. It was originally posted at 2:23 p.m.

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