Coronavirus

Santa Cruz County Summer Preview: Outdoor Recreation

Good weather and lockdowns spark enthusiasm for mountain biking, hiking and hitting the surf

A biker on the Flow Trail in Soquel Demonstration State Forest. PHOTO: COURTESY OF Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz.

Government officials have spoken, and exercise is “essential.”

Or some exercise is, anyway. Gyms that had been closed under Santa Cruz County’s and the state’s shelter-in-place orders are allowed to start reopening Friday. But the lockdown-type measures aimed at slowing the Covid-19 pandemic have never affected people’s ability to get outside and go for a run or a jog around their own neighborhood.

The shutdowns have actually presented the perfect opportunity for many county residents to get outside and blow off some steam. After closing down for several weeks, many California state parks, like Castle Rock, Henry Cowell and Big Basin, are now partially open for hiking.

The current situation has been a boon for the mountain biking community. Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz Executive Director Matt De Young says he’s talked with mountain bike shop owners who have sold out of bikes. Additionally, the trails have been busy, he says, not only with mountain bikers but also with hikers and horseback riders.

“People really jumped on the bandwagon getting outside, so there’s lots of new people out there,” De Young says.

And it isn’t just the woods that people are free to enjoy.

After closing for several weeks, many skate parks have reopened. Also, although local regulations have affected local beaches, the county’s coast is still partially open all day, at least for anyone who wants to go for a dip. The waters remain open at all hours for water sports, like swimming, surfing, kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding. The beaches are closed from 11am-5pm to joggers, runners and cyclists. Beaches are closed all day for sitting in the sand, lounging, partying, and barbecues. So if you want to go for a walk on the beach, you had better do it in the morning or evening, and make sure to keep moving. Deputies have been issuing citations.

Under the health orders, everyone must stay six feet away from anyone not in their household. Local health orders also require anyone and everyone to wear a face covering—like a mask or a bandana, to cover their nose and mouth—before entering a business. Some Bay Area counties have gone the extra mile and are requiring face coverings for anyone who leaves their home. Health officials have not gone quite that far in Santa Cruz County, where face coverings are recommended for outdoor exercise but not required.

Some good news is the fact that research has shown the coronavirus dies more quickly outdoors in the open air—especially in direct sunlight—than it does indoors.

Nonetheless, wearing a face covering is often the courteous thing to do. In the event that you are already infected with the novel coronavirus and don’t know it, the mask should prevent any large droplets from launching out of your heavily panting mouth and hitting anyone else. Keeping the mask up for several hours, however, could be uncomfortable. One option—for anyone going on a hike, bike ride or run—is to wear a bandana or other covering around your neck. When you pass someone on the trail, you can pull it up over your nose and mouth—especially if you see that your comrade on the trail is wearing their own face covering in order to protect you.

“It can be hard to wear those full-time while you’re exerting yourself,” De Young says. “Making that effort to be safe while in close quarters with other people is what our recommendation is.”

With new people hitting the bike trails, De Young wants to remind new riders to be mindful of trail etiquette. Bikers should yield to everyone else on the trails—both hikers and equestrians. Also, downhill riders should generally yield to uphill riders, he says.

An added challenge was that Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz had to furlough its trail maintenance crews when the shelter-in-place orders took effect, and they’re just now getting back to work. The nonprofit also suspended most of its volunteer operations, including the ones working on trail maintenance. Parks staff and De Young’s colleagues have resolved some of the major safety hazards, but the trails still need some work.

“Some of the more routine stuff has been put on the backburner,” De Young says. “Right now, we’re working on how we get our volunteers back out there safely to address those things. With this increased usage, there’s definitely an increased need for trail maintenance.”

Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz, which just moved offices, is also figuring out its financial path forward after canceling several fundraisers, including a spring campaign and a couple of races.

“We’re still trying to figure out what fundraising looks like when there’s more important things, such as relief of the pandemic going on,” De Young says. “How do we do our fundraising if we’re not doing events?”


Read our full summer preview coverage.

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