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Sonoma County beaches to open by weekend, coastal parks on Wednesday

Sonoma County’s coastline is finally opening up, its beaches and trails beckoning inland visitors for the first time formally since health officials imposed stay-home orders back ?in March.

Sonoma County’s Doran, Stillwater and Gualala Point regional parks, including parking areas and restrooms, will reopen to the public on Wednesday. State parks on the coast and beaches will follow by Saturday, once a few logistical matters can be dealt with, officials said.

“I think we could be ready and open sometime Friday, or certainly by the weekend,” said Terry Bertels, California State Parks district superintendent for the Sonoma-Mendocino Coast.

Work crews still have to remove about 100 large cement blocks placed along the Sonoma Coast before Memorial Day in parking areas and turnouts to discourage visitors from flouting the park closure. That will take about two days, Bertels said.

In the meantime, Sonoma County Health Officer Sundari Mase said park users have demonstrated sufficient willingness to abide by masking and social distancing requirements to persuade her to take the next step.

“Reopening the beaches is a milestone for our community. We know many people have waited patiently for this day,” said Bert Whitaker, director of Sonoma County Regional Parks. “We’re committed to keeping coastal parks open this summer, and we appreciate the public’s support for health guidelines that are meant to protect us all.”

Picnic areas and campgrounds will remain closed for the time being, and the emphasis remains on active, outdoor recreation.

But Whitaker said coastal visitors would not be prohibited from throwing down a blanket and spending some quality time sunbathing.

“We’re so pleased residents can take a break from sheltering near home by visiting the coast for exercise and fresh air,” Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Susan Gorin said.

The public has been clamoring for access to the coast as weeks and then months of shelter-in-place life persisted. After an initial experiment with leaving parks open, all public open spaces in the county were closed by Mase in March because so many people from around the Bay Area and Central Valley converged in the region.

Parks have slowly reopened since, with the coast last in line because it is such a powerful draw, attracting thousands of people even when under hard closure.

Patty Ginochio, a prominent community member and organizer in Bodega Bay, said she remained concerned that people would come out prematurely to state beaches before parking areas opened and either park or walk on crumbling coastal bluffs and slippery ice plant that covers the ground along Highway 1. The fall risk is considerable, she noted.

“The ice plant is a false bottom,” she said. “They’re parking on it and they’re walking on it.”

Mase, in a Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday, said COVID-19 cases had stabilized since her last round of phased reopenings in the county, which included allowing for outdoor dining at restaurants, wineries and breweries over Memorial Day weekend.

Her new park order, issued late Tuesday, allows for vehicular travel to coastal parks and dispenses with what had been daily park closures between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m., with limited access outside of those hours for those arriving at the coast on foot or by bike.

Visitors still have to carry face covers and wear them when they’re within 6 feet of others not in their party, as well as maintain proper physical distance to avoid the spread of coronavirus.

Anyone who is sick should stay away from parks, and those heading out should check themselves for symptoms of COVID-19, including fever, cough, sore throat, severe fatigue or headache, and loss of the sense of taste or smell.

“As we enjoy the coast again, let’s continue to do our part to keep each other safe: Carry a face covering, don’t socialize in groups, and avoid busy beaches if social distancing will be challenging,” Gorin said.

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.

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