A number of parks and recreation areas around Santa Cruz County are closed or have limited public access in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve and Tubac Presidio State Historic Park are closed and several local recreation areas in the Coronado National Forest have been shut down.
The CNF announced the changes – which affect more than two dozen picnic areas, campgrounds, visitor centers and and bathrooms across five ranger districts – in a news release issued Wednesday.
“While the vast majority of the forest will remain available to visitors who want to spend time outdoors, campgrounds, day-use sites and other developed recreation facilities will have gates closed to discourage high concentrations of visitors,” the release states. “Currently, recreation opportunities on the forest include hiking and biking on trails, dispersed camping and other activities that support social distancing and small groups.”
In the Nogales Ranger District, bathrooms have been locked, gates have been locked at the upper end of Madera Canyon and Peña Blanca Lake by Ruby Road, and group-use sites have been closed at at Bog Spring, Calabasas and Peña Blanca/White Rock.
Tubac Presidio State Historic Park, an Arizona State Parks facility operated by volunteers, posted an announcement to its state parks website saying that it had closed beginning March 21 “until further notice.”
Park Director Shannon Stone said that while the park has 11 acres of open space, many of its exhibits are in enclosed buildings. What’s more, she said, many of the park’s volunteers have compromised immune systems, so they decided it was best to close.
The Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve in Patagonia closed to public access on March 17, and a spokeswoman said there wasn’t a planned date for its re-opening.
“Like many organizations, we are looking at Centers for Disease Prevention guidelines and how best we can help slow the spread of COVID-19,” said Heather Breshears of The Nature Conservancy, which operates the preserve.
“As you can imagine, this is not an easy decision,” Beshears said in an emailed statement. “This a beautiful time in Arizona and nature is a great way to restore during a time of uncertainty… We look forward to welcoming (visitors) back as quickly as circumstances safely allow.”
After Gov. Doug Ducey ordered an end to sit-down dining and closed bars in counties with confirmed cases of COVID-19, Arizonans flocked to natural spaces including hiking trails. In the metro Phoenix area, the Arizona Republic reported, so many residents hit the trails last weekend that some hikers didn’t find as much social distance as they were hoping for.
Patagonia Lake State Park remained open as of Wednesday, though programs including boat tours and guided bird walks were cancelled. A notice posted to the park’s website advised users that “To maintain social distancing and avoid overcrowding, the park may experience temporary day-use closures,” and added that the camping shower facilities had been closed for maintenance.
Tumacácori National Historical Park closed its visitor center and museum and suspended all public programming effective March 17, but has kept its mission grounds and historic church open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily for self-guided tours. The Anza Trail, which has a trailhead just north of the park and several other access points in Tumacacori Tubac and Rio Rico, is open and available 24 hours a day.
Santa Cruz County closed its main complex and two other buildings to the public starting Wednesday, but its parks and trails remain open. “Users are asked to practice social distancing,” the county said in an announcement, adding that no reservations would be taken for the Calabasas ramada or the Damon Park fields.
The City of Nogales has not closed any of its facilities, other than the public library, during the coronavirus pandemic.