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'Very Successful... Not Perfect': How Things Went When LA County Trails Reopened This Weekend

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Dozens of visitors played by the 40-foot-tall waterfall at Eaton Canyon on Saturday. (Josie Huang/LAist)
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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?

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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 said her department spent significant time planning for the re-opening with partner agencies, and educating the public about park etiquette through social media.
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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Hundreds visited the Eaton Canyon trail on Saturday, many to see the park's famed 40-foot waterfall. (Josie Huang/KPCC)


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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.

Garcia added that Eaton Canyon has one of its busiest trails and that at some points, there was a line of cars waiting to get into the park, so her department shut down the overflow parking lot. She said she understands that people want to go into the water on a hot day but her department would coordinate with the U.S. Forest Service to make sure people do not congregate.
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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.

IN NARROW PARTS OF TRAILS, YOU CAN'T KEEP SIX FEET APART FROM OTHER HIKERS. WHAT'S YOUR ADVICE THERE?
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?'

WHAT AREAS HAVE YOU BEEN MONITORING CLOSEST?
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.

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Norma Garcia is acting director of the Los Angeles County Parks and Recreation Department. (Courtesy L.A. County Parks & Recreation)
I DON'T WANT TO HIKE IN A CROWDED AREA. ANY ADVICE?
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.

Garcia urges the public to plan trips by visiting the department's website at trails.lacounty.gov or downloading its trails app. She said that both will provide real-time information to trail users. Garcia expects trails to get busier as safe-at-home orders are relaxed over time.

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.

I SAW PARK MONITORS STATIONED OUTSIDE PARKS AND TRAILS? WHO ARE THEY?
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.

Garcia said that park monitors -- 130 county employees who have volunteered or were reassigned -- will also be present during the week, because so many people are still working from home and may be more likely to visit parks than they were pre-pandemic.
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A park monitor, left, speaks to trial users congregating at the Eaton Canyon waterfall at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains. (Los Angeles County Parks and Recreation Department)

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 the role of park monitors is to be an "ambassador" and establish good public relations and offer information. A person without a face covering would not be stopped from going on the trails, but would be reminded they need to do so, she said. But park monitors would take action with a group of non-compliant park users.

Garcia said no assists were required of the Sheriff's Department this weekend.