Across the Bay Area, parks and open spaces have been shut down to prevent crowds over the past week.
As of 6 p.m. on Friday, March 27, San Mateo County announced it would close all county parks until further notice. County parks staff will lock entrance gates and continue to patrol parks during the closure.
The following day, the California State Parks Department followed suit, announcing that it would close vehicular access to all of its 280 parks throughout the state, meaning that they can still be visited if accessed by foot or bike, and would temporarily close others to all visitors. Access the full list of closures here. Campground areas at state parks remain closed.
The Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District has closed the Windy Hill Open Space Preserve in Portola Valley until further notice, and the Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve and Mt. Umunhum area of the Sierra Azul Preserve, as well as other popular areas, are subject to intermittent closure.
"The sheer number of people crowding our parks and driving to reach them made them unsafe for our community. I appreciate the desire for our residents to get outside and enjoy our open spaces, but we cannot have them descending on our parks in large groups now," said San Mateo County Manager Mike Callagy in a press statement.
"We need to make every possible effort to avoid contact with each other," said San Mateo County Health Officer Dr. Scott Morrow in a statement announcing the closure of parking facilities at beaches in Half Moon Bay and Pacifica Wednesday.
"As for outdoor exercise, do this in your own immediate neighborhood, maintaining social distance from other people. Do not go into other neighborhoods, parks, or beaches for recreation. Do not drive except to provide or obtain an essential service.
"Our world has changed, and we need to adhere to the letter and the spirit of the shelter in place order to slow the spread of COVID-19 and protect our communities. When this is over, you will again be able to enjoy the beautiful and bountiful opportunities to be in the nature that surrounds us."
It's worth noting that these serious precautions are coming from the same health officer who's been at the forefront of a movement to get doctors across the county to write "prescriptions" for parks, urging people of all ages to spend a couple of hours a week in public parks. (His favorite local parks are those with Coastside redwoods.) Despite being a booster of widespread outdoor access, he is urging everyone to do their part to make slowing the spread of COVID-19 their biggest priority.
Other parks remain open
Heading into this weekend, a number of other local open space agencies have issued recommendations so that more public open spaces don't follow.
Various outdoor space agencies, including the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, Peninsula Open Space Trust and the Santa Clara County Parks departments offer these guidelines:
● Stay 6 feet apart from other people.
● Stay home if you or someone in your household is sick.
● Don't hold family or social gatherings, such as picnics.
● Avoid popular outdoor areas
● Plan ahead for restrooms to be closed
● Leave no trace
People should also consider shortening their visits to give others a chance to have a safe experience, or consider a virtual nature visit, said Don Rocha, director of the Santa Clara County Parks and Recreation Department in a March 26 public letter.
Access some virtual outdoors events and videos organized by the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority here.
"We must all do our part to keep as many of our parks open, while protecting the safety of yourself, your family, your community and our staff. If physical distancing cannot be followed, our parks very well could close," Rocha said.
Santa Clara County has suspended parking fees for visitors to its parks.
"We need the public’s help to keep our parks safe," said San Mateo County Parks Director Nicholas Calderon. People should use their local parks and trails and avoid driving to other neighborhoods, even if that means forgoing their favorite parks, he said.
"Be respectful of others in the park by practicing social distancing and be respectful of the environment – don’t cross barricades, don’t litter and don’t urinate in parks. If people break the rules, we will be forced to close our parks," he said in a countywide announcement. Restrooms, playgrounds, picnic areas, visitor centers and the Parks department's main office are closed. All reservations through April 12 are canceled, as are planned events and commission meetings.
The Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District has also stopped providing paper maps at its preserves, so people should download maps in advance.
In addition, a number of local cities have started implemented their own restrictions for public open spaces during the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Wednesday, Palo Alto announced that it would close parking lots near the city’s three open space preserves: Foothills Park, the Arastradero Preserve and the Baylands so that they can only be accessed by foot or bicycle, starting Friday. Bathrooms and drinking fountains had already been closed.
Access a list of the selected parks that have been closed in Santa Clara County here.
For more inspiration:
Here are some of our suggestions on outdoor areas to explore that are currently still open.
The San Mateo County Parks Department reports that Edgewood Park is often near capacity and should be avoided except at unpopular times.