'Very Successful... Not Perfect': How Things Went When LA County Trails Reopened This Weekend
As the first weekend of re-opened hiking trials came to a close on Sunday, LAist spoke with Norma Garcia, acting director of Los Angeles County Parks and Recreation, about its sprawling network of of outdoor recreation sites. (Its parks have remained open during safe-at-home orders.)
The interview has been edited for length and context.
HOW DID IT GO THIS WEEKEND?
Garcia: I have to say that we have steady moderate crowds, but not overcrowding. And what we are seeing is that the public is absolutely respecting the six-foot physical distancing. We do have the public wearing face coverings. And as far as L.A. County, we've also seen very positive feedback regarding our park monitor program, both at trails and golf courses.
Garcia: We believe that our park system is the lungs of Los Angeles County and we take our stewardship and our commitment to serving the public and providing proper recreation services very seriously.
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IS THERE ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT? LAist REPORTED THAT DOZENS OF PEOPLE WERE CONGREGATING AT EATON CANYON'S WATERFALL. THE ATTRACTION WAS TECHNICALLY CLOSED BY THE U.S. FOREST SERVICE, WHICH OPERATES PART OF THE PARK.
Garcia: Yesterday's launching, we believe, was very successful, for the most part. Not perfect. And so we want to continuously, on a daily basis, evaluate how the public responded to the opening, and what we need to do so that obviously the public has a has a safe experience.
NOT EVERYONE IS WEARING FACE MASKS AT RECREATION AREAS. WHAT IS THE GUIDANCE FROM YOUR DEPARTMENT?
Garcia: It is a requirement for the public to use face coverings when they're in parking lots as they're entering the facilities, also when they're around other people, like on a trail. However, if an individual participant is alone and there may not be others on the trail, they are not required [to wear a covering]. If there's physical distancing at our large parks, the participants do not have to wear the face covering.
Garcia: If you find yourself in a narrow point of a trail, we are asking that people use face coverings to protect others. We're also informing the public that they should speak to each other and look each other in the eye. If you're using the trail and there is another person or people that are close by, you want to say, 'I'm coming. Do you want to move or can you go forward?'
Garcia: Popular parks for Mother's Day tend to be our large regional parks. So Whittier Narrows located in the East portion of the county, Frank G. Bonelli Regional Park, Santa Fe Dam Recreation Area in Irwindale, Castaic Lake State Recreation Area, Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area. These are large regional parks that have large vast areas for families to gather and picnic. So while we are not allowing large groups to attend these parks, we are welcoming family units and household units to come and enjoy.
Garcia: People really love Eaton Canyon, but Eaton is one trail out of hundreds of miles of trails. So we want to encourage the public, especially during COVID, to perhaps try a new trail and to help us decrease large crowds.
She said both the app and website offer lots of useful information for people to plan new experiences, such as the length of a trail, the incline, weather, the types of flora and fauna. It will also provide real-time updates about visitation at the parks.
Garcia: So, for example, If we have to close the Eaton Canyon parking lot because there's a lot of people at the park, our staff there will notify our trail staff and we will update the website. Downloading the app is also critical. People can actually see where they're at in regards to the trail. Perhaps it's too hot and they want to figure out how long it's going to be until they complete the trail. They can look at their app and realize where they're located to make those decisions.
Garcia: Their primary role is to constantly remind the public of the physical distancing, the face coverings, keeping people moving, making sure that they're in a single file line, that they're not congregating, that they're not stopping for long.
WHAT IF PARK MONITORS SEE A HIKER ENTERING A TRAIL WITHOUT A FACE COVERING?
Garcia: If, for any reason, we have large groups that are congregating or we do have groups of people that are not taking the public health order seriously, at that point the [Parks Bureau of the L.A. County Sheriff's Department] would be called by a park monitor for assistance.
Garcia said no assists were required of the Sheriff's Department this weekend.