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As more Southern California beaches and parks reopen, it’s ‘like being set free’

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A mountain biker wearing a mask at Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve cruises newly reopened trails Saturday in Woodland Hills.
(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)

The reopening of Griffith Park’s trails Saturday could not come soon enough for Hector Cervantes, a 35-year-old machinist and avid hiker, who said, “after three months at home in lockdown, I was starting to feel like a slave in a prison run by dangerous germs.”

“To finally be outdoors again,” he added, trudging down a shady stretch of Vermont Avenue crowded with fellow hikers, “is like being set free.” Though trails are open, roads into Griffith Park remained closed to traffic.

Nearby, Porsche O’Neil, 63, an executive at Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, was enjoying a seven-mile hike that featured natural sights and sounds including two deer browsing grass in a glade of oak trees where acorn woodpeckers flitted among their gnarled branches.

“Those deer were happy, beautiful and eating without a care in the world,” she said. “And hikers were respectful. Everyone oohed and aahed from a respectful distance. Nobody rushed toward them with cameras. It’s been that kind of a wonderful day.”

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More Southern California beaches and other outdoor spaces, including Los Angeles County trails, are open this weekend than in previous weeks. But officials stressed social distancing rules still apply.

Many beaches in Orange, Ventura and San Diego counties are open. But parking lots at beaches and public amenities remain closed.

Despite the easing of restrictions, protesters gathered in Huntington Beach on Saturday to demonstrate against the stay-at-home orders that remain in effect. Video footage posted to social media showed many waving American flags and holding signs calling on officials to fully reopen the economy.

L.A. County beaches are still closed. But officials say they may reopen as early as Wednesday morning with a range of restrictions, including closed parking lots, piers and boardwalks.

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County officials reopened trails and golf courses with restrictions Saturday morning. Face coverings are required in parking lots, trailheads and other crowded areas. Hikers are required to wear face coverings on trails only if they’re unable to keep six feet apart from others.

At Griffith Park, Ben Peeler, 61, a professional steel guitar player with a keen eye for detail, noticed that “the trails, picnic areas and roads are more overgrown with vegetation than I’ve ever seen them.”

Waist-high chaparral and grass in certain areas transformed popular dirt trails and fire roads into almost unrecognizable narrow strips of dirt, which explains why Berhain Berlain, 34, of Los Angeles, and his partner, Dora Esteban, 22, “got lost in the brush for a few hours.”

“The trails were also harder to climb than the last time I was here,” he added sheepishly. “That might be because I haven’t been out of the house much lately.”

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Hikers at Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve on Saturday.
(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)

For wildlife, the throngs of visitors, many of them with dogs on leashes, suddenly flooding the park’s canyons and slopes marked an abrupt end to a historic respite from the usual tumult of humanity across the urban ecosystem, home to skunks, coyotes, deer, bobcats and a lone mountain lion known as P-22.

Many of the hikers in ball caps, running shoes and masks returned home with memories of seeing mountain quail, deer and snakes moving through the brush edging the park’s paved lanes, rugged trails and fire breaks. As the stay-at-home restrictions are lifted in phases, however, the serenity will be replaced by a crush of cars, tour buses and helicopters hovering over the Hollywood sign.

“The coronavirus lockdown has reminded us,” Peeler said, “that we’re tramping through the living room of plants and animals that were here first, before it was surrounded by one of largest cities on the planet.”

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Across the county in Santa Clarita, cars entering the newly opened parking lot at Ed Davis Park in Towsley Canyon had to pass between a pair of neon-yellow signs reminding visitors to practice social distancing, wear face coverings at the trailhead and not gather in groups.

Monica Elcott, who frequently hikes the trails with her husband Moody and three young children, didn’t think that would be a problem.

“Judging by the looks of the parking lot, I think we’ll be able to maintain our distance,” she said.

Nearly three dozen cars were lined up in the dirt lot near the park’s trailhead but Elcott said on many weekends there are twice as many. The sparse late-morning crowd, she said, was probably due to the heat and the slow spread of news about the trail’s reopening.

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The family had tried to hike last weekend, only to find the gates to the parking lot locked and the trail closed.

“We try to get out with the kids. We like to see nature and it keeps us sane,” she said. “We don’t like to be in the house. We’ve been quarantining ourselves. We’re kind of like ‘we need some air.’”

Two weary hikers, one wearing a mask and the other with a bandana pulled down around his neck, stumbled off the trail with a pair of dogs who seemed especially excited the park had reopened. For their human handlers, who declined to give their names, it felt pretty much like a normal weekend again.

“It’s just like a regular day except everyone is wearing a face mask,” one said.


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