A line of cars waits to get into Morro Bay State Park Campground on the first day it reopened.
Photo by Shari Sullivan

The State Parks Department has relented somewhat in its coronavirus pandemic response and reopened several local campgrounds, with of course guidelines on wearing masks and social distancing.

SLO Coast Superintendent, Dan Falat, announced Sept. 16 that the Morro Bay State Park Campground and Morro Strand State Beach Campground in Morro Bay, and Hearst San Simeon State Park would reopen on Saturday, Sept. 19 for campers with reservations, no so-called walk-ups allowed.

However, the campground at Montaña de Oro will remain closed along with the Spooner’s Ranch House and visitor’s center. Morro Bay Natural History Museum and Hearst Castle remain closed.

“Each campsite,” Falat said in a news release, “will allow up to eight people from the same immediate household and two vehicles maximum. Group campsites will remain closed in order to avoid large gatherings.”

All State Park campgrounds were closed last March, as the State ramped up its coronavirus pandemic response that included shelter-at-home orders for all residents, and the closure of “non-essential” businesses, which included all state park campgrounds including the Oceano Dunes.

In Morro Bay it also led to the closing of Lower State Park Road at South Bay Boulevard, much to the consternation of drivers coming from Los Osos who have grown accustomed to using the road as a shortcut into Downtown Morro Bay.

Though the State Park Marina and Bayside Café, as well as the Morro Bay Golf Course were open, people had to drive all the way into town via the highway and then back out Main Street to get to them.

The state park itself was open for hikers and bicyclists but not vehicles. Six months later, the situation has eased somewhat.

“Based on current data reported by the California Department of Public Health,” Falat said, “State Parks is working with local and state officials on a phased and regionally driven approach to increase access at park units where compliance with state and local public health ordinances can be achieved.”

Falat explained, “Park system operations have been modified to provide an outdoor experience that reduces the risk of exposure to COVID-19, and modifications at each park may vary.”
For the local campgrounds the rules include:
• Face coverings — currently, the San Luis Obispo County health orders require face coverings when campers cannot maintain a minimum 6-foot distance from other campers and those not from an immediate household;
• Guest passes — guest passes or courtesy passes will not be issued to non-registered campers or friends;
• Share the road — drivers, cyclists and hikers are urged to be cautious and to share the road. When Morro Bay Campground opened to campers, Lower State Park Road also opened to vehicular traffic for visitors and local residents;
• Parking — day use areas and parking lots remain open to the public, but overnight parking restrictions will be strictly enforced; and,
• Keep clean and be prepared — not all restrooms are open to the public. Bring soap/sanitizer and pack out all trash. If you are camping in an RV, use the restrooms in your own unit to help reduce the use of the shared restrooms at campgrounds.

All is not back to normal, however, the public is still under the Governor’s orders.

“The reopening of some campgrounds does not mean things are going back to normal,” Falat said. “Gov. [Gavin] Newsom continues to ask Californians to stay close to home, maintain the proper physical distance, wear a face covering and avoid congregating with others outside their immediate household.”

And park rangers will be watching for compliance with the rules. “State Parks will continue to monitor visitation and physical distancing across the State Park System,” Falat said. “If unsafe conditions develop, parks and beaches may need to decrease access in certain areas.”

If readers want to go camping, they need to go online to: ReserveCalifornia at: www.reservecalifornia.com or call (800) 444-7275. Hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.
In other parks news, San Luis Obispo County Parks and Recreation is lifting restrictions it had on its campgrounds at local lakes and regional parks.

According to the SLO Parks Department, the County was going to reopen with modifications portions of El Chorro Regional Park and the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden, located on Hwy 1 across form Cuesta College.

Campgrounds at Lopez Lake, Santa Margarita Lake, Coastal Dunes RV Park and Oceano Memorial Park had been open to local residents only, but according to a news story in The Tribune, the County opened the campgrounds to anyone starting last weekend.

County Parks Superintendent, Nick Franco said, “This is based on the decline in new cases, low hospitalization rate and no tracing of transmission to campgrounds. Campsites are spaced safe distances from each other, restrooms and showers are sanitized daily, and physical distancing is required during registration and camping.”

The County too isn’t booking group campsites to cut down on large crowds, and group activities, playgrounds and other gatherings continue to be prohibited.

The County and State Parks are also placing restrictions on campfires due to the high fire threat. SLO County will not allow any campfires and State Parks allows them only in fire rings, no campfires on the ground are allowed.