Texas parks reopened on April 20 as the first step in Gov. Greg Abbott's plan for getting the state back to business amid the COVID-19 crisis.
Parks in all corners of the state had been a refuge for Texans with cabin fever when shelter-in-place began in March. But by the end of the month, restrictions in parks tightened, and on April 7, they closed their gates indefinitely.
Since then, park personnel have been preparing to welcome visitors back safely, they say.
“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,” Carter Smith, executive director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, says in a release. “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.”
But it's not all business as usual at Texas state parks. Before you pack up the kids, tent, and firewood into the SUV, here are six things to know:
Not all parks are open
Due to weather conditions, limited staffing, and continuing construction projects, some state parks have not reopened. In North Texas, for example, Cooper Lake State Park was open by the afternoon of April 20, but nearby Bonham State Park was not. In Central Texas, Inks Lake State Park had reopened, but nearby Longhorn Cavern State Park had not.
Before heading to a favorite destination, check out TPWD's Texas State Parks Alert Map for the most up-to-date information about the status of individual parks.
Parks are open for day use only
The RV marketplace RVshare reports that RV bookings jumped 138 percent from April 17 (the day that Texas and some other states announced park reopenings) to April 20. Texas state parks are reopened for day use only — no camping allowed.
"The resumption of overnight camping will be announced to the public once a date has been determined," TPWD says.
Reservations must be made
Visitors are required to pre-purchase and print day-use permits through the Texas State Parks Reservation System before traveling to a park. Reservations can be made online at www.texasstateparks.org or by calling 512-389-8900. Due to social distancing guidelines, no monetary transactions will take place at the park.
To troubleshoot issues with the reservation system online, visit the reservation help page on the TPWD website.
Masks are required
Per Gov. Abbott’s direction, new restrictions in effect include requiring state park visitors to wear face coverings. These certainly don't mean medical-grade masks that should go to frontline healthcare workers. But, they must be a covering for the mouth and nose. And they must be worn at all times.
Masks will not be provided by the parks. Visitors are encouraged to bring all necessary provisions, including their masks and hand sanitizer, with them to help local businesses stay in stock for their own communities, TPWD advises.
Everyone must social distance
The rules of social distancing that everyone knows pertain to parks now. Gov. Abbott's order requires visitors maintain a six-foot distance from individuals outside of their party, and prohibits the gathering of groups larger than five.
"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," TPWD says. "Those traveling to parks in rural areas should remember possible limits on available resources and local health care capacities."
Rentals and programs remain closed
Some operational changes remain in effect at parks, including the suspension of all transactions, 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," the agency says.
For more information on restrictions and to help plan a visit, visit the TPWD website.