Closed since late March, county campgrounds at Lopez Lake, Santa Margarita Lake, and Oceano Memorial Park have reopened to SLO County residents only.
A county order issued on May 15 reopened the campsites and also set a 50 percent occupancy cap on all local lodging—hotel, motels, campgrounds, RV parks, and vacation rentals.
Officials say the order is designed to provide more outdoor recreation opportunities for locals while also discouraging tourism.
"We follow the direction of the public health officer [Dr. Penny Borenstein]," said Nick Franco, director of SLO County Parks and Recreation. "As the restrictions have been loosening, she felt comfortable opening [the campgrounds] back up to locals. We still want to keep people from traveling from outside the county."
- PHOTO COURTESY OF LOPEZ LAKE MARINA FACEBOOK PAGE
- LOCALS ONLY Campgrounds at Lopez Lake, Santa Margarita Lake, and Oceano Memorial Park are reopened to SLO County residents only.
The open campgrounds are first come, first serve; reservations are not accepted. Rangers will require proof of SLO County residency from campers on arrival. Multiple households cannot book adjacent campsites to hold a group gathering.
"It makes it easy for somebody who lives here and it makes it hard for somebody who doesn't live here," Franco explained of the rules. "It's to discourage people from coming from far distances."
Other park amenities—like boat rentals—remain open to all visitors (though tourists are discouraged to come), with capacity restrictions.
Campgrounds at El Chorro Regional Park and the Coastal Dunes RV Park remain closed, since both facilities continue to be held for emergency homeless services. The county runs an overnight parking program at Coastal Dunes, and the Five Cities Homeless Coalition is also using the site for services.
The El Chorro Regional Park campgrounds are reserved as a space to put trailers to house homeless individuals recovering from COVID-19. Because the trailers have yet to be utilized, the county has reopened the rest of the park, including the SLO Botanical Garden and the Dairy Creek Golf Course.
"We're keeping the campground closed but opening up the rest of the park. If, tragically, we need to use it, then we could shut down the park again," Franco said.
Many additional SLO County park facilities remain closed as of press time. They include all playgrounds, all pools, camping cabins, group picnic sites, all indoor facilities except restrooms, and the Los Osos Skate Park.
The more than 2-month-old park closures have had a dramatic impact on the county department's budget.
At a May 19 county Board of Supervisors meeting, supervisors approved a $1 million internal loan to the parks department to make up for lost revenues. The county has lost about $1 million in camping fees alone between March and May.
The golf courses have been popular among locals during the COVID-19 crisis, Franco said, but that hasn't come close to making up for the revenues generated by golf-playing tourists.
"We kind of run in a business model," Franco said. "The suffering that businesses are having are the same problems that we're having. We rely on our revenues in order to actually provide our services."
The fiscal crunch is also putting future parks projects in jeopardy. As part of the budget shakeup, SLO County pulled back funds that had been set aside for the long-planned El Chorro Park expansion, which included mini golf and a go-kart course.
Yet Franco is confident the department will rebound.
"I think parks will thrive in the long term," he said. "I think one of things that has been very obvious in this pandemic is people want to be out in the parks. The demand for parks, if anything, has gone up." Δ