Parks, Beaches in SoCo May Open in Limited Capacity Soon

discussions are underway among local officials to crystallize plans for allowing residents limited access to Sonoma County’s parks after they were closed a month ago to stem the risk of coronavirus spreading among the local populace.

Top elected and appointed officials in county government, including Health Officer Sundari Mase, have endorsed the move, with leaders citing test results that they said show progress in suppressing growth of COVID-19 cases.

Given that evidence, and clear pent-up demand in the community as the shutdown drags on and days grow warmer, a first step toward allowing people some opportunity to access local parks seemed warranted, leaders said.

Any misstep, however, could eclipse gains made to control the virus’ spread, so initial plans envision access limited to paved multi-use trails, like the popular Joe Rodota Trail, as well as walk-in or bike-in entry to parks within reach of residents’ homes, park officials and county supervisors said. 

“We don’t want to go backward,” said Supervisor Shirlee Zane. “But at the same time, we want to offer some hope and ability to exercise outdoors, now that it’s a spring, and see if we can exercise in a way that doesn’t endanger our vulnerable populations.”

Sonoma County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Susan Gorin said she hoped to have more official plans over the weekend or early next week.

Playgrounds, restrooms, picnic areas and other high-touch, tight spaces that make physical distancing difficult would remain closed, officials said.

Beaches and parks on the coast would remain closed for the near future, largely because of the risk that they would draw unwanted visitors from outside the region who already account for a disproportionate share of the thousands scofflaws who state park rangers have encountered in recent weeks on closed stretches of coastline, officials said.

It’s unclear what’s in store for Russian River beaches, but park officials have similar concerns about the potential to lure people from far beyond nearby neighborhoods, as the river does this time of year.

Any loosening that would unduly expose local residents or tend to encourage nonessential travel while a statewide shelter-at-home mandate remains in place would not pass muster with Mase, who has final approval on any change in the county’s current order, Regional Parks Director Bert Whitaker said. 

That order spelling out a host of social distancing rules and business closures expires May 3, but a revised extension is widely expected.