In the space of a few weeks, Sonoma County’s public parks have gone from full closure to “soft closure” and now, as of this week, to a “soft opening.”
Under the new rules, county residents may now drive to inland parks, including those managed by Sonoma Ecology Center. The rule change is significant for Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, which is located atop a steep 3.5-mile incline and difficult to reach without transportation.
County officials and Sonoma Ecology Center park managers still encourage residents to continue visiting more accessible neighboring parks—such as Sonoma Garden Park, Montini Open Space Preserve and Sonoma Overlook Trail—by foot or bicycle as much as possible.
Coastal parks and beaches are still inaccessible by car under the new rules, and at inland parks there are different policies in place depending on circumstance. Residents are advised to check individual park websites for details before visiting.
At Sugarloaf, the park’s Visitor Center, campgrounds, picnic areas and other facilities remain closed until further notice. Public restrooms are open and will be sanitized several times per day—however, park managers recommend avoiding use of the restrooms as much as possible to minimize potential exposure to the coronavirus.
They also strongly recommend purchasing and printing out an entry pass beforehand by going to www.sugarloafpark.org.
“We applaud the new health order as it reopens our vital public parks to more members of the public,” said Sugarloaf park manager John Roney. “Sugarloaf, in particular, was hard to reach under the rules previously in place. We are confident visitors will continue to respect social distancing protocols so that everyone can enjoy the important health benefits of being outside.”
He added, “We also suggest coming early or later in the day on weekends, to avoid crowds or the possibility that we are out of parking.”
In order to curb the spread of coronavirus, all visitors to parks must continue to follow social distancing protocols including:
- Bring your own water and avoid using public drinking fountains
- Maintain a distance of at least 6 feet with anyone not in your immediate household
- Carry a face mask and put it on if necessary (such as when passing someone closer than 6 feet on a trail or in a parking lot)
- Stay home if you’re sick
This week’s announcement followed a vote on Tuesday, May 12, by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors. The new health order implementing the soft opening was signed soon afterward by the county’s health officer, Dr. Sundari Mase.
All public parks, beaches and other open spaces in Sonoma County were fully closed on March 23 following heavy usage by residents. Health officials determined that the crush of visitors to those places defeated the purpose of shelter-in-place orders and could allow the virus to spread. That order was amended to a “soft closure” on April 29 that allowed residents to access inland parks by foot or bicycle only.
“I feel comfortable reopening some parking lots and recreation areas as long as we remain diligent about hygiene, social distancing and face coverings,” Dr. Mase said Tuesday in a statement.
Authorities did not say when a full opening might take place. And they continued to urge all residents to remain vigilant about protecting ourselves and others from exposure to the virus.