East Bay Regional Park attendance

Derek, Betsy and 13-month-old Mia Strain got some fresh air and maintained the appropriate social distance from other visitors while taking a hike at Round Valley Regional Preserve in Brentwood, Calif., Saturday, March 21, 2020. The park was closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, but trails remained open. (Tony Kukulich/The Press)

Despite the closure of many organizations, East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD), deemed essential, remains open, but officials urge visitors to do their part.

Dave Mason, EBRPD public information supervisor, said he is proud to work for a district doing so much for the public.

“Our agency has stepped up to the plate during this emergency to continue to provide the public access to the parks during this time,” Mason said. “The health agencies’ orders, currently and from the beginning, have allowed outdoor recreation as an essential activity as long as social distancing was maintained.”

To help ensure visitors remember to stay 6 feet apart and use the parks safely, the parks district has put together a robust effort to educate the public with public service announcements, social media posts and extra signage in the parks. The messaging goes hand in hand with spring’s warm weather, which is drawing East County residents out of their homes and onto the miles of walking trails and regional park trails available around the Delta.

“Being active outside is a way to break up our day and reset our moods after doing hours of schoolwork,” said Heidi Nielsen, a Brentwood mother of four. “It also helps pass the time as our days feel longer and boring.”

Nielsen’s family is one of many who have added family walks to their daily routine. She said she uses outdoor time for her children to earn screen time, boost endorphins and put the family in a positive mood.

Though most regional parks remain open, some parks and parking areas have been closed to limit overcrowding. Most of the restrooms have been closed, as well as high-touch points like picnic areas and drinking fountains. Mason asked that visitors remember to bring enough water for themselves and their pets and wear a mask when within 6 feet of others. The district also requests that all pets remain leashed at all times, even at parks where they were previously allowed to run off-leash.

“We need visitors’ help to keep parks open and safe,” said Mason. “We have heard from the public very clearly that parks are an essential service and essential to health and well-being, now more than ever.”

The coronavirus is not the only danger when utilizing the great outdoors — anyone going for a hike or a walk should protect themselves from sunburn with a high SPF sunscreen and protective clothing, such as hats and long sleeves. Sunny days also mean rattlesnakes are out.

“With the snakes, a big thing is to try to hike with someone in your family,” Mason said. “Be aware as you’re hiking ... Stay on the trails and stay safe. Avoid placing your hands and feet where you can’t see them.”

He further noted snakes are another reason to keep dogs on a leash at all times. All wildlife in the parks, including rattlesnakes, is protected. If you see a snake on a trail while hiking, wait for it to cross, and do not approach it.

Mason also suggested park visitors plan their visits early in the day, before temperatures get high, and during less busy times, such as weekdays. With the large amount of increased traffic parks are seeing this spring, visiting during lower-traffic time can be tricky.

For more information on how to visit parks safely, what types of restrictions might be in place and what areas are closed, visit www.ebparks.org/default.htm.