How to Stay Active Outdoors During Shelter-In-Place

By Tom Stienstra

As Bay Area residents observe the government order to shelter in place as a means of containing the coronavirus outbreak, many who love the outdoors are looking for an escape from the monotony of being indoors at home all day. There is some respite out there if you know where to look.

Shelter-in-place requires people in six Bay Area counties to stay in their homes at all times, barring exceptions like grocery shopping, health care visits and getting exercise. Park trails are providing a refuge, even as visitors centers at state parks, national parks and national forests close to the public.

Health officers encourage short trips for fitness, as long as hikers do it alone or with close family members and keep 6 feet away from others, and make no stops driving to and from trailheads. With a few major exceptions, trails at national, state, county and regional parks, and open space, are still open for hiking, running and mountain biking.

“All outdoor state park spaces remain open and accessible to the public,” said State Parks director Lisa Mangat in a policy that most park districts are following.

Many open space areas are suspending docent-led activities and closing picnic areas. However, in many, rangers remain on duty to respond to emergencies.

In the East Bay hills Tuesday morning, field scout Brian Murphy of Rossmoor showed how to stay active within the order. From near his home, he hiked alone out of Tice Valley and into the hills to photograph blooming California poppies.

“It’s a nice opportunity to get out of the house to take the camera for walks in the peace and quiet, open space, and get in some good exercise as well,” Murphy said. “Sorry, enjoying the snow up at Tahoe is off the table.”

Ski resorts in the Lake Tahoe region announced over the weekend that they would shut down for the foreseeable future due to the pandemic.

Park officials recognize that fitness leads to health that can build strong immune systems. “Healthy Parks, Healthy People” is a global movement that “harnesses the power of parks and public lands as a health resource,” according to the U.S. National Park Service, which supports the movement.

The East Bay Regional Park District also operates a major program around the theme and links its annual “Trails Challenge” to the idea.

“I hike to stay healthy,” said my brother, Bob Stienstra Jr., “and you never know what you might see when you’re out there.” He lives on the South Peninsula and said he planned a short trip and hike to a local preserve operated by the Midpeninsula Open Space District.

Murphy and brother Bob said they would both heed the warnings: Keep travel to a minimum, do not engage others, avoid traveling in groups and keep the interior of your vehicle and surfaces you might touch sanitized. Go to the nearby trailhead, get your hike done and then return home.

While most park trails remain open, there are some new major exceptions across the region at areas where people might congregate.

In San Francisco, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area suspended tours on Alcatraz Island until April 8. The GGNRA also closed the Fort Point National Historic Site and the Lands End Lookout.

In Marin, the GGNRA also shut down Muir Woods National Monument, including all parking there, the Point Bonita Lighthouse and the Kirby Cove and Bicentennial campgrounds. Marin County Parks also closed all of its parks through April 7.

On the other hand, Marin County Open Space, where hundreds of trails and ranch-style roads are available for hiking and mountain biking, remain open, rangers said.

Most park districts have closed visitors centers, museums, group gatherings and programs, swim facilities, and anyplace where groups might gather. East Bay Parks also closed its two most popular campgrounds, at Anthony Chabot and Del Valle regional parks, and ordered all campers out on Monday.

In the Santa Cruz Mountains, Loch Lomond Recreation Area and its beautiful lake opened as scheduled on March 1, but closed Monday until at least well into April, said ranger Gar Eidam. “Hopefully we’ll still have a season,” he said.

For most, a common sense approach can solve most issues regarding park use, Murphy said. He has no wish to get sick or spread the illness, he added, and like many, “wants to stay active and maintain fitness.”

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