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Health, Science, Environment

Bay Area Parks Begin Closing As Increased Visitation Poses Public Health Concerns

Angela Johnston

Bay Area residents heard the news that they can go outside under the “shelter in place” order and they really took off running with it.

Parks around the Bay Area reported huge increases in visitation this weekend, which posed a challenge for the social distancing we’re all required to do now. Anecdotally, KALW staff members saw crowds of people at San Francisco’s Ocean Beach, on trails at Point Reyes, and in East Bay Regional Parking staging areas. The General Manager of the East Bay Regional Park District, Bob Doyle, told The Chronicle yesterday that in his 45 years of work at the parks, he’d never see visitation like this. 

Dave Mason, Public Information Officer for the East Bay Regional Park District said, “People clearly needed and wanted to get outdoors for stress relief and exercise but we want to make sure visitors are doing it the right way.” The district is considering closing some trails and parking areas this upcoming weekend to prevent overcrowding.

Other parks are beginning to limit access. Marin closed its county parks. Point Reyes shut down a lot of the seashore. Golden Gate National Recreation Area and San Francisco’s city parks remain open to visitors but building facilities are closed. 

In a press conference today, Governor Gavin Newsom announced the beginning of “soft closures” of access to parks, including the closing of some California state park parking lots, like at Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve in Sonoma County. “I don’t want to close big beautiful open spaces, “ Newsom said. “Not when we’re encouraging people to go outside with intention and purpose,” but he said, people need to use common sense and practice social distancing. 

We reported last week about safe ways to get outdoors under the “shelter in place” order. The guidelines are to stay six feet away from people outside your household. Go to less popular parks and outdoor areas, with wide trails and sidewalks. 

Dave Mason of East Bay Regional Parks said, because parks are running on limited staffing right now, visitors should be self-reliant, bringing their own water and hand sanitizer, and packing out their trash, including dog poop. He said, it’s safer for park staff to not have to pick up that trash right now. The East Bay Park District is also asking for dogs to be kept on-leash right now, to keep both dogs and their owners away from each other. And Mason said, this isn’t the time to have group gathering or picnics in the park. “We need [the public’s] help to maintain social distancing,” he said, so that the parks can stay open.