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L.A. Trails Won’t Stay Open Long If People Can’t Follow the Rules

May 7, 2020 by Brian Champlin
Hikers pass by one another in Griffith Park. Photo: Brian Champlin

During yesterday’s daily briefing, Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that Los Angeles is moving to Stage 2 of 5 in relaxing social distancing guidelines and reopening our city. This advancement includes the opening of public trails within the city on May 9, with provisions that hikers wear facial coverings and maintain physical distancing.

Regaining access to parks and trails is certainly an exciting development for nature-starved Angelenos who’ve been cooped up in their homes for the past six-plus weeks. But the mayor was clear in an email sent out this morning:

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“Remember: we originally closed hiking trails when they became too crowded to be safe, and if we see people failing to keep their distance, wear face coverings, and follow the rules, we will be forced to close them again.”

If you think back to the weekend after Safer at Home was announced (I know that seems like a lifetime ago), you’ll recall that initially, city parks were still open. But that all changed very quickly.

This helicopter footage from NBC Los Angeles showed small groups of hikers packing trails in Griffith Park on Sunday, March 22 (skip to the 14:20 mark as a prime example). That evening, the Mayor took to Twitter to announce the closure of L.A. city parks and beaches.

What if the same scenario plays out again this weekend? What if news choppers spy swarms of Angelenos hiking in closed columns along city trails?

We spoke with Casey Schreiner, founder of the popular Modern Hiker blog and author of Discovering Griffith Park, last week (video below) about the eventual reopening of trails, but followed up with him again following the Stage 2 announcements. He’s concerned that guidelines for trail usage won’t be embraced by all. Some of the reader feedback he’s getting indicates locals are bracing at restrictions.

“An unsettling number of comments I’ve seen so far seemed to be complaining about the need to wear masks outdoors,” Schreiner said in a statement to We Like L.A. “I do hope these people remember that these trails were completely off-limits to everyone for almost two months, and that dealing with a minor discomfort is a very small price of admission to our beloved green spaces. If people do think it’s too much to ask to maintain social distance or have a face covering, I’d encourage them to stick to neighborhood walks so the trails don’t close again.”

Griffith Park is hardly the only trail people can use in the city and county of Los Angeles, but it is among the most popular. There is a reason that Runyon Canyon was specifically called out and won’t open this Saturday. Officials are clearly worried about the possibility of overcrowding and/or that hikers will fail to physically distance. And I bet dollars to donuts that if they see more helicopter footage like linked above, they’ll be quick to shut trails back down.

So here’s a thought: maybe don’t use the trails right now. Maybe not just yet. Maybe wait to see what the usage level is like at your favorite destination. Maybe plan to use it less often than you might have before. Ultimately, for our parks and trails to remain open, people will have to use them more sparingly.

And if you’re hell-bent on going to Griffith Park or some other popular hiking destination this weekend, perhaps it’s best to ask yourself a couple of questions.

First, are you prepared to keep a mask on when it’s 85 degrees, in no shade? If not, maybe skip it for now.

Second, if you arrive at a trailhead and notice that it’s already full of hikers, do you have a plan B, C, or D? Could you drive to another less-used trail, or are you willing to scrap the plan altogether and try for another day?

Look, I’m not here to debate the public policy merits of extending park closures, nor the health benefits of wearing facial coverings while hiking on crowded trails. I know everyone is anxious to get back to using these resources. Garcetti admitted as much in his presser yesterday.

But it should be clear by now how conservative our city and county officials are being about rollout. With many unknowns still at play in terms of testing, a second wave of infections, a timeline for treatment options, and a host of other factors, caution still seems like the wiser course.

Given that context, I hope local residents are judicious in how and when they choose to come back and use our public lands. It will make a big difference in whether they stay open.

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