Parks and Health Officers Say Stay Home [Updated]

April 16, 2020

Editor’s Note: We’ll update this story as park conditions change.

April 16 at 2:45 p.m.
We strongly encourage anyone heading to a park to investigate and closely read up on the current restrictions as they apply to the specific park of interest. Restrictions vary widely across the state, counties, districts, cities, and individual parks. Follow social distancing requirements, do not gather in groups, and help parks stay safe and open.

After a week of temporary closures, Santa Cruz County has reopened most of its beaches, parks, trails, recreation areas, and associated parking lots as of today. For a list of facilities that remain closed, check here.

April 10 at 11:30 a.m.
Santa Clara County Parks and Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority urge families to hold their traditional Easter egg hunts at home, but to come enjoy a walk or hike in their parks, all of which are open. SCCP offers a list of county parks with wide trails that make social distancing easy.

The East Bay Regional Park District has announced the closure of additional parking lots for April 11 and 12. See the list here.

April 9 at 4:00 p.m.
The City of San Jose will close and limit access to some parks over the April 11-12 weekend. See here for details.

Santa Cruz County has closed all its beaches, parks, trails, recreation areas, and associated parking lots until April 15. The county has provided a FAQ with full details.

Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District is closing the following preserves on Saturdays and Sundays: Coal Creek, El Corte de Madera Creek, La Honda Creek, Los Trancos, Long Ridge, Pulgas Ridge, Purisima Creek Redwoods, Ravenswood, Russian Ridge, Skyline Ridge, Teague Hill, Thornewood. Windy Hill and Long Ridge Preserve will be closed weekdays as well. For additional information check here.

March 27, 7:00 p.m.
San Mateo County Parks closed all parks at 6 p.m. today. Entrance gates will be locked, closed signs posted at trailheads and parking lots, and the parks patrolled until further notice. See the full press release here.

The East Bay Regional Park District announced Wednesday that it would close several parks, including the Ohlone Regional Wilderness and Tilden Botanic Garden, as well as many more parking lots, by Friday March 27. The full list of closures can be found here, and a map of closures can be seen here.

The Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy announced that as of Thursday March 26, parking lots would be closed at National Parks in San Francisco including Baker Beach and Sloat Boulevard at Ocean Beach. See the full facilities closure list here.

Point Reyes National Seashore has updated its list of closed roads and parking lots here.

March 24, 1:30 p.m.

The first weekend of Bay Area shelter-in-place orders saw the region’s considerable number of parks crowded with people and parking lots overflowing, according to park districts and agencies and law enforcement. Claiming violations of the six-foot social distancing restrictions and traffic jams on critical roads, Marin County closed all parking lots to parks on Monday. Sonoma County closed all parks, with Sonoma County’s health officer Dr. Sundari R. Mase writing in the order that the number of park visitors “makes it impossible for persons to maintain the required social distancing.”

Other districts and agencies say they are now coordinating a regionwide communications campaign this week for people to stay home and away from parks.

“We’re part of a coordinated effort with the South, North, and East Bay districts to really make people understand they have to comply” says Kori Skinner, public affairs manager with the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District. “We will do more coordinated communications across the region this week, and if it doesn’t work, the parks will probably be closed.”

A week ago the public was largely encouraged by Bay Area districts and agencies to responsibly enjoy the outdoors during the shelter-in-place orders based on sections that define “outdoor activity” like “walking, hiking or running” as essential. California Secretary of Natural Resources Wade Crowfoot tweeted following the stateside shelter-in-place order on March 21, “YES! Our @CAStateParks trails remain open, as do outdoor areas of many local and regional parks. These places can be safely enjoyed with social distancing and other guidance from @CAPublicHealth.”

But with everything else closed and nice weather, many people headed to the only public places left open — parks, open spaces, and beaches. Although visitors to many Bay Area parks reported seeing people maintaining spacing and following health guidelines, crowds and gatherings at hotspots like the Marin coast and Tilden Park in Berkeley convinced park leaders to change course. 

In Marin, particularly popular destinations like Stinson Beach, the sheriff’s department says they were overwhelmed and understaffed to handle the influx of visitors. They did not issue citations for violations of the social distancing requirements that states people who do not live together must remain six feet apart. Enforcing the requirement poses challenges for law enforcement. “We’re still figuring it out,” says Sergeant Brenton Schneider, the Public Information Officer for Marin County Sheriff’s Office. “The tough point is how to make the variation between people who live together or don’t.” 

Instead some park departments and agencies are focusing on closing parking lots and ticketing violators, stressing, “If you have to get in a car to get to the park, that is non-essential travel, unless you have disability needs,” Schneider says. The parks remain open to those who can get there by foot or bike.

old briones trail crowds
Hikers on the Old Briones Road Trail in the East Bay Regional Park District over the weekend of March 21, 2020. (Photo courtesy East Bay Regional Park District)

California State Parks announced Monday a similar strategy to close parking lots at its parks in Marin, Sonoma, and San Mateo County (follow the link for the updated list), preventing anyone except walk-in visitors. The National Park Service had closed Muir Woods and several San Francisco parks earlier, and announced it would close some gates and parking areas at Point Reyes National Seashore after “unprecedented visitation” on Saturday. San Francisco closed playgrounds, but not parks themselves, with Mayor London Breed tweeting, “This is not the time to be hanging out at the park.”

“Everyone predicted [crowding] would happen this weekend,” Skinner said. “But we thought people would be more responsible.”

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