Open for business

State parks reopen as part of Gov. Abbott’s first step in phased plan to reboot Texas

AUSTIN – If you are becoming stir-crazy by adhering to the statewide stay-at-home order, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has offered an immediate solution to your problem as we begin to make plans for how and when Texas will reopen for business as usual from the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic crisis.

Almost two weeks after ordering all Texas state parks closed to fight the spread of the new coronavirus, Gov. Abbott announced Friday that state parks would reopen Monday, April 20 with a few changes to standard procedures. So for those of you tired of looking at walls and computer screens, take advantage of the opportunity to embrace one of the Lone Star State’s natural resources – the great outdoors.

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Although Abbott ordered all state parks closed on April 7, the quick turnaround represents the first step in what the governor has described as a phased plan to reopen the Texas economy. State parks in the Heart of Texas region reopened will be Cleburne State Park, Dinosaur Valley State Park, Lake Whitney State Park, Meridian State Park and Mother Neff State Park.

“As we navigate through these challenging times, it is essential that outdoor experiences and opportunities are available for Texas families,” Texas Parks and Wildlife Department executive director Carter Smith said. “We have been diligently working with our partners in local communities across the state to help safeguard our state park visitors, volunteers and staff when they return to Texas State Parks.

“During the temporary closure, our State Parks team has been cleaning and sanitizing park facilities, addressing routine maintenance projects, and ensuring requisite safety protocols are in place to ensure visitors have the best possible experience.”

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Texans may visit the parks for day use only, and state park guidelines will enforce strict social distancing rules while requiring visitors to wear face coverings, maintain a six-foot distance from people in other parties and avoid gatherings of more than five.

Park visitors will have to make reservations and payments online by pre-purchasing and printing day-use permits through the Texas State Parks Reservation System before traveling to a park by going to www.texasstateparks.org or by calling 512-389-8900.

All group-use facilities, visitor and nature centers, headquarters and other enclosed spaces where people congregate will also remain closed. There are no license requirements to fish lakes and rivers located on state park properties, but size and number limits still apply.

During the state park closures, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers kept most parks and boat ramps under its jurisdiction open across the Heart of Texas region. But the Corps of Engineers officials remind potential visitors open that campgrounds and other areas that promote or encourage groups of people to gather in close proximity will remain closed until further notice.

In addition, some Corps of Engineer parks are closed due to flooding or related damage, and campgrounds are closed.

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, reopening the state parks offers an opportunity for some stress relief.

In doing so, TPWD vows to continue to do its part to actively encourage and promote these opportunities in ways that are safe and close to home.

But due to limited staffing, weather conditions and continuing construction projects, some state parks will not be open at the current time. Park visitors should check the Texas State Parks Alert Map regularly for the latest information about the status of individual parks. The resumption of overnight camping will be announced to the public once a date has been determined.

Visitors planning on coming to a state park are encouraged to bring all necessary provisions – such as hand sanitizer and face masks – with them in order to help local businesses have enough goods to properly serve their communities during this time. This will also help park staff have necessary supplies available for all guests during their stay.

Anyone traveling to a Texas State Park should continue to follow Centers for Disease Control (CDC) public health recommendations and adhere to strict social distancing and cleanliness standards while in public spaces. Those traveling to parks in rural areas should remember possible limits on available resources and local healthcare capacities.

Operational changes still in effect at parks include the suspension of all transactions at parks, equipment rentals and in-person interpretive programs. All group-use facilities, visitor and nature centers, headquarters and other enclosed spaces where people congregate will also remain closed.

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.

Photos by SIMONE WICHERS-VOSS

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