By Ray King

Arkansas State parks which have been closed since April 3 will begin to reopen Friday under specific conditions.

Governor Asa Hutchinson said Tuesday that beginning May 1, over-night camping will be permitted in state parks but only for in-state residents and only with the use of self-contained RV’s.

The Governor made the announcement as a part of his daily Coronavirus update and was joined by Stacy Hurst, Secretary of Parks and Tourism.

On May 15, Hutchinson said visitor centers, museums, exhibits, restaurants and food service facilities in the parks will also open under restrictions established by the Arkansas Department of Health.

Also on May 15, reservations to rent cabins, lodges and RV’s will begin only for Arkansas residents. Those reservations will be limited to Friday through Monday to allow for through cleaning.

Hurst said her department had worked with the health department in creating a plan to gradually reopen parks and an on-line reservation system should screen out most out-of-state visitors who try to rent cabins or lodges. She said park rangers will make frequent checks looking for out-of-state license plates and will ask visitors at check-in where they are from.

On Wednesday, the Governor is set to announce when dine-in service can return to cafes and restaurants and was asked about that Tuesday after announcing that restaurants in the parks would be able to reopen.

He said the restaurants in state parks are unique and he, his staff and the state health department are still working on what kind of requirements cafes and restaurants will need to have to meet before they can reopen.

The governor also said that the state wants people to enjoy the parks but that social distancing is still necessary, as is wearing a mask if social distancing is not possible.

“We don’t want to take a step backward,” he said.

Looking at the COVID-19 numbers Tuesday, the Governor said 94 new cases were reported in the state, bringing the total now to 3,111. Of those 94, 20 were at Cummins Prison and the remaining 74 were community-based cases. A total of 104 people are hospitalized and two new deaths were reported in the past 24 hours, bringing the state total to 52.

On the subject of testing, the Governor said he had been asked when the state could say that two percent of the residents had been tested for COVID-19 and said that will occur in May. That two-percent threshold is one of the requirements in the federal reopening the country plan. Hutchinson said he has been assured by the White House that whatever supplies are needed for the testing will be provided.