SLO Voyagers leave the dock and begin their practice out on Morro Bay. Zach Donnenfield | Mustang News Credit: File | Mustang News

Three San Luis Obispo County State parks reopen this weekend for overnight camping after being closed for about six months due to COVID-19.

Morro Strand State Beach, Morro Bay State Park and Hearst San Simeon State Park will open on Saturday. There are guidelines in place to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 among campers, such as social distancing between between non-household members, mask wearing where social distancing cannot be achieved, a limit of eight people per campsite and use of hand sanitizer. 

Park Rangers will monitor the campgrounds and enforce these guidelines, according to Dan Falat, the District Superintendent of these northern county state parks.

“We want people to enjoy the experience but still be doing their best to remain socially distant and adhering to those rules and regulations,” Falat said. 

The parks are open for day use, but reservations are required to stay overnight, said Falat. The parks closed in March, but are now allowed to reopen as San Luis Obispo County recently lifted restrictions on visitation to the parks for people living outside the county. 

According to Falat, some groups made their reservations for this weekend up to seven months in advance. There are 80 campsites at Morro Strand State Beach, 130 sites at Morro Bay State Park and 200 campsites at Hearst San Simeon State Park. Falat said he is expecting full campgrounds this weekend as they are operating at 100 percent capacity. 

“The state park campgrounds are coastal campgrounds and historically they are very popular destinations for folks, both locally and around the state,” Falat said.

Campers will be allowed to utilize the designated fire pits on the campground. Ground fires are never allowed at any time. Due to the wildfires, Falat said state park employees will be paying close attention to the campfires.

“That’s something we monitor all the time and if it becomes a situation where we feel that they [campfires] need to be shut down we will do that,” Falat said. 

Since the campgrounds have been closed, state park maintenance workers like Jordan Stuedemann have been getting the campgrounds ready for this weekend’s visitors. Today, Stuedemann could be seen at the Morro Strand State Beach campground clearing plant debris from the campsites and working on other maintenance projects. Park rangers were also patrolling the grounds. 

Stuedemann said he had been seeing more wildlife at the campgrounds since they closed, including a long-tailed weasel, which Stuedemann said he doesn’t see often.

He said he is not nervous about the amount of people that are expected to be at the campground this weekend.

“I’m just going to try to stay as safe as possible,” Stuedemann said. “We’re all in this together.”

Falat said there is no indication of when other state parks such as Montaña de Oro will be open for overnight camping. Falat added that Montaña de Oro has “had a record number of visitors” during the shelter-in-place, which has led officials to close the park numerous times.

“At this point we wanted to focus on the more traditional campgrounds, and we feel that we can do that in a safe and effective manner,” Falat said.

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