As part of a regional easing of shelter-in-place restrictions, parks will start to reopen in Sonoma and San Mateo County after a month of full closure.
Sonoma, which fully closed all of its parks on March 23, will maintain its strictest-in-the-region restrictions, opening parks to pedestrians and cyclists only, while keeping restrooms, parking lots, and coastal beaches closed. The county’s revised public health order calls the reopening a “trial restricted access program,” and cites the “burden the closures have placed on the community, the initial progress in ‘flattening the curve,’ and the reduced risk of transmission while outdoors” in allowing increased access.
But it also highlights the county’s continued concern about crowding. The order, signed by County Health Officer Sundari R. Mase, states that a “significant number of daily visitors” have driven from outside Sonoma County to the beaches despite the full closure, necessitating continued beach closures.
“The community is making an extraordinary effort to flatten the curve of infections, but the risk is still too great to fully reopen parks,” Mase said in a press release sent out by the county. “I’m asking the public to continue sheltering at home and visit only those parks they can easily walk or bike to.”
San Mateo County, which fully closed its parks on March 27, announced a May 4 reopening of 13 of its 23 county parks, including some parking lots and restrooms. Parks situated in more dense neighborhoods where people can walk in from nearby, like San Pedro Valley in Pacifica, will keep parkings lots closed to avoid crowding, said San Mateo County Parks Public Information Officer Carla Schoof. The county has also asked hikers to walk single file and follow one-way trails, and it has kept its most popular park, Crystal Springs, open only to hikers, not bicyclists. County staff will follow new restroom cleaning procedures, Schoof said, to help keep bathrooms open and safe.
With park staff and rangers limited for safety and personal reasons, parks across the Bay Area will still rely on park visitors helping out more than they’ve been accustomed to. That particularly means packing out trash, which park staff don’t have as much time to clean. East Bay Regional Park District General Manager Bob Doyle said last week that dog waste and plastic water bottles have been particular problems in the last month, with people leaving both piled in the vicinity of trash cans. That’s typical behavior, he said, but now, with reduced staff and restricted movement, not something the parks have time to clean up.
Schoof agreed, and said that with San Mateo County staff spending more time cleaning restrooms, it would help particularly if they didn’t also have to empty overflowing trash cans. She also said visitors could help by following all the standard guidance — don’t crowd, don’t park illegally, know in advance if the park is open, visit the park for exercise but not for hours on end.
“I think people are getting it,” Schoof said. “I think people are more mindful now when they’re out in these public places. Hopefully we’ll be able to keep these parks open and maybe open some more.”