Chain the gates

Despite efforts to stay open during COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Abbott orders Texas State Parks temporarily closed to the public

AUSTIN—Just a week after reminding the public that they were open for business, Texas State Parks chained their gates closed.

Effective at the close of business Tuesday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ordered all state parks closed to the public in order to maintain the safest environment for visitors, volunteers and staff. At a time when Texans are looking for different ways to get out of their homes for healthy activities, the announcement dealt yet another blow from the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.

State parks in the Heart of Texas region impacted by the closures will be Cleburne State Park, Dinosaur Valley State Park, Lake Whitney State Park, Meridian State Park and Mother Neff State Park.

StateParksClose

“Given the myriad of challenges and heightened risks of operating the parks at this time, we believe this is the best course of action right now in order to meet the health and safety expectations the state has set out for the citizens of Texas,” Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Executive Director Carter Smith said. “All state parks will remain temporarily closed until public health and safety conditions improve.

“During the closure, staff will continue to steward and care for the parks to ensure they can be immediately reopened to visitors at the appropriate time.”

At a time when outdoor recreational opportunities such as hunting, fishing, biking, jogging, walking, hiking, wildlife viewing and the like represent essential activities for Texas citizens more than ever before, one of the state’s greatest natural resources has been cut off. But TPWD vows to continue to do its part to actively encourage and promote these opportunities in ways that are safe and close to home.

From the outset of the pandemic, TPWD worked diligently to facilitate access to the outdoors across the state, including in the state park system, which hosted nearly 740,000 day and overnight visitors throughout the month of March.

But despite the implementation of increasingly restrictive visitor use measures to help minimize the transmission of COVID-19 at parks, TPWD reached a point where public safety considerations of those in the parks, and in the surrounding communities, had to take precedence over continued operations.

Difficulty in ensuring compliance with social distancing, problems in maintaining adequate supplies and keeping park facilities sufficiently sanitized represented only a few of the challenges encountered by state park staff.

HOT state parks

Prior to the statewide closure, most state parks remained open while employing some unique procedures to help protect the health and well-being of visitors, volunteers and staff. As of April 1, all day-use and camping permits had to be purchased online before visiting a state park.

In addition, fewer park visitors were allowed to makes it easier to comply with social distancing guidelines. Sites where more than 10 people could gather had already been closed, including headquarters buildings, group sites, interpretive centers and stores.

While parks remain closed to the public, staff will be working to help maintain the standard upkeep, maintenance, stewardship, and continued regular cleaning of site facilities. The TPWD will continue to stay current with the latest public health recommendations and will announce when a definite reopening date has been determined.

In the meantime, the Texas State Parks Customer Service Center will be working toward contacting customers with upcoming overnight reservations to reimburse stays booked through the reservation system. Group and facility reservations have been cancelled until April 30. Cancelled reservations will not be charged normal administrative fees.

Day passes purchased through the reservation system, not associated to the Texas State Parks Pass, will also be refunded without penalties. The Texas State Parks Customer Service Center will automatically process cancellations of both overnight and day-use reservations.

If your reservation has been impacted by a facility or park closure, a Customer Service Center agent will contact you – you do not need to contact TPWD as they will be contacting customers in order of arrival date and appreciate your patience.

Questions regarding state park reservations can be emailed to customer.service@tpwd.texas.gov and general park information can be found at TexasStateParks.org.

Photos by SIMONE WICHERS-VOSS

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