Gay hiking

Even after the COVID hiking boom, Bay Area parks still have a strong pull

During the pandemic lockdown, people tired of sequestering on the couch, at the kitchen table or in the home office flocked to the Bay Area hiking trails, eager to exercise, fresh air and a view of something other than the familiar four walls and Netflix.

The Bay Area’s wealth of local, regional, state and national parks and recreation areas were often inundated with visitors, some of them seasoned hikers, others newcomers who cluttered many of the trails.

Some Bay Area state parks, such as China Camp and Jack London in the North Bay, saw a 50% increase in visitors in 2020. A trail counter in the popular Almaden-Quicksilver Park in the Santa Clara County saw nearly a tripling of visitors in 2020. Many other parks didn’t. I wasn’t counting, but I could tell from the overflowing trash cans and crowded parking lots that the number of users was rising.

Santa Clara County regularly surveys its users to gauge what draws them to regional parks, said Melissa Hippard, partnerships manager for the Santa Clara County Parks Department.

“The No. 1 answer is always hiking,” she said. “It’s super exciting to see people have a positive experience of being outside, enjoying the fresh air and seeing other people.”

The Bay Area has always had a good supply of hikers, but the pandemic has seemed to create a new culture that has headed in groups – either as households or as groups of friends feeling relatively safe. of the coronavirus on outdoor trails that stretch throughout the Bay Area.

“There’s been an overall increase over the past two decades in group hiking and away from the Sierra Club solo hiker model, if you will,” Hippard said. “I see more families, groups of friends, especially during the pandemic.”

Angel Island has miles of hiking trails and is a short ferry ride from Tiburon, California. Angel Island is a state park located in the San Francisco Bay Area near San Francisco, California.

Brian Feulner / Special for The Chronicle

Existing hikers were also using the trails more frequently, with some of them hampered by the influx of newbies unfamiliar with trail etiquette and who sometimes left trash and even human waste behind.

Even as gyms, movie theaters, restaurants and museums have begun to reopen, trail appeal remains strong, say park rangers, officials and hikers, though it’s slightly subdued in some parks.

“It really depends on the park, said Maria Mowrey, Bay Area District Superintendent for California State Parks. “Park usage was up in 2020 overall, but in 2021 it’s down a bit but still higher than it was in 2019. And some parks, like Mount Diablo, are still rising.”

Even as restrictions and caution eased in 2021 as vaccination rates rose, people tended to venture closer to home – into national and state parks, said Ian McLorg, ranger in Chief for Marin County Parks. As children began to return to school in the fall and more adults resumed their journeys, he said, the number of hikers using the trails decreased slightly and the hours of use trails changed – midday to morning and evening with fewer hikers on weekdays. days.

“For a while, weekdays were like weekends and weekends were like vacations,” he said. “We don’t see that anymore. It seems to be back to some semblance of normalcy with more people in the morning or evening.

Bradley Powles and her husband, who live in Hercules, covered more than 128 miles in the first half of 2021.

“We’ve been all over the Bay Area – all the way to Bodega Bay and all the way to Pinnacles National Park,” he said. “Each week we would choose new spots and add them to our spreadsheet.”

They were about to take on an annual hiking challenge hosted by the East Bay Regional Parks District and became frequent shoppers at REI, buying four pairs of hiking boots, eight neck warmers” and more hiking gear. hike than we might need,” Powles said. .

But that changed as vaccinations increased, pandemic restrictions eased and more entertainment options reopened.

“Hikes have been replaced by brunches, barbecues, movies, museum visits, etc.,” he said. “We occasionally take our dogs on hikes, like once a month. We want to walk more soon. But, realistically, we probably won’t get back to the touring cart until the new year and a new resolution to do so.

Mowrey is optimistic that once the pandemic passes, the hiking bug will stick around and even spread.

“Now that more people know these parks and trails are available,” she said, “we just think it’s going to increase. People just want to be outside and they realize how much there is. good places here, and they’re enjoying it.

Michael Cabanatuan is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]: @ctuan