coming back from covid

Rediscovering the Outdoors During Year of the Pandemic

NBC Universal, Inc.

A year under pandemic restrictions had a lot of Bay Area residents rediscovering the great outdoor spaces across the region, not only for their scenic beauty but also for their therapeutic value.

When the Bay Area went into the first shelter order in March 2020, getting outside was one of the few things considered a low health risk. And it's always been a common way to de-stress. That led a lot of people to rediscover the region's spectacular open spaces.

"We’ve had full parking lots and busy trails for much of the year, and it’s fantastic that more people are getting out," said Brian Malone, spokesman for the Midpeninsula Open Space District.

Without commutes and extracurriculars, families had a lot more time to get outside for hiking and exploring during the pandemic. But how many more people headed outside may come as a surprise to some.

"We think that the people who’ve been coming out for years are coming out more often," Malone said. "But we also think a lot of new people are exploring and seeing parks and open space for the first time, and we hope they’ll keep coming back."

Indeed, the Midpeninsula Open Space District saw an 88% increase in visitation over the past year. Visitation was up 30% overall within the East Bay Regional Parks District, but it shot up 100% in some of the agency's individual parks. The Santa Clara County parks system saw a 100% spike in vehicle and trail use in December alone.

"I love to see more people out and about, enjoying outdoor spaces, taking care of themselves and our environment," hiker Michael Albertine said.

Albertine and his baby, Acadia, spend a lot of time outdoors, as they have since before the pandemic. But now, they have a lot more company.

"We do notice when we’re here there are more people," Dirk Hoekstra said.

Throughout the pandemic, Midpeninsula and other open spaces welcomed people with reminders to mask up and keep their distance, making some narrow trails one-way only.

Those restrictions may hold for the near future because, even as fewer people are getting sick and more people are getting vaccinated, indoor capacities will continue to be limited for many activities in the months to come.

"When everybody is trapped indoors," hiker Aytek Celik said, "to have a little green space to go to really makes a difference."

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