In an effort to encourage people to stay at home, the Sonoma County Department of Health Services announced on Monday, March 23, that it would be closing all parks in the county effective March 24. The order stating the closure of local parks comes on the heels of a weekend where parks across Sonoma County were full to the brim with people enjoying the outdoors — some of whom weren’t abiding by the county’s social distancing protocol.
Also on Monday afternoon, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that the state would be closing all state parking lots for the same reason. The closing of state parking lots would result in a “soft closure” of state parks, Newsom said in a press conference, since it would limit the amount of available parking.
The closure of parks within the county applies to “all agencies and jurisdictions operating parks and open spaces in Sonoma County, including city, county, state and federal parklands and recreational lands operated by private groups and nonprofit,” states a press release from the county.
“Closing parks is a difficult decision, but it is the right decision at this time,” Dr. Sundari Mase, the county’s health officer, said in a statement. “Allowing crowded conditions in parks is not in our best interest during this health crisis. The best action we can take is to stay close to home and limit our outdoor time to our yards and neighborhoods.”
While the county’s current shelter-in-place order allows for members of the public to participate in outdoor activities while maintaining a six-foot distance from other people, traveling to local parks will no longer be an option. Instead, the county suggests that community members stay closer to home for outdoor activities by taking a walk or riding a bike in their neighborhood or exercising in their own yard.
Should people continue to park in the areas surrounding local parks and walk into the parks, the county said that park rangers will work with law enforcement to limit off-site parking as well.
“We hoped the parks could be an essential resource, but we can’t support the type of use we saw during the first days of the shelter-in-place order,” said Bert Whitaker, director of Sonoma County Regional Parks in a statement.
“We thank everyone who tried to use the parks safely, but we need to do more to protect our community. Let’s get through this emergency knowing we’ve done all we can to keep each other well.”