San Luis Obispo County’s Pismo Preserve drew record crowds over Thanksgiving, leading to concerns that some hikers were not following CDC guidelines for COVID-19 safety.
On most days, the Pismo Preserve parking lot is full and its hiking trails growing in popularity since the pandemic shutdowns.
Arroyo Grande resident Paul Floridize decided to enjoy a hike on the preserve early Thursday morning with his wife.
“Before we go out we always try to be prepared and have a mask in our pocket," Floridize said. "So when we can’t maintain distance—for ourselves and for others—we can cover up.”
While Floridize is one of the hikers following the rules, Kaila Dettman with the Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County, which manages the preserve, said that over the holiday weekend, the organization received several reports about people gathering in large groups and not wearing facial converings when passing other hikers.
“It was concerning for our staff and for volunteers and for other visitors that reported to us they were uncomfortable with some of the behaviors with people on the preserve,” Dettman said.
When the pandemic started in March, the Pismo Preserve closed fully. It has reopened in phases since June; and now been fully reopened since mid-September. But Dettman said if local COVID-19 cases continue to rise, and crowds do not adhere to CDC and county guidelines, the Land Conservancy may consider a phased re-closing of the Pismo Preserve, starting with limiting weekend hours.
“We don’t want to do that, we want to keep the Pismo Preserve open," Dettman said. "So we are asking everyone to do their part to enjoy the preserve safely.”
Dettman said all visitors should come in small groups, not gather in the parking lot for long periods of time and must have a facial covering with them to put on when passing other hikers.
“Our single track trails are narrow," Dettman said. "So it’s really hard to keep six foot of distance when you’re passing somebody.”
Floridize said it would be a shame if the preserve closed again, and is hoping others hikers do their part in preventing that from happening.
“We’re lucky on the Central Coast in that we don’t have that big of a population, and we haven’t really been hit really hard with the pandemic like some other places have," Floridize said. "And I’m concerned we take that for granted.”