Southtown resident Brianne Richardson-Jameson is looking forward to a Memorial Day weekend with friends she hasn’t seen since the coronavirus outbreak began in mid-March.
On Saturday, Richardson-Jameson’s group will kayak a secluded section of the Guadalupe River, camping at night on private land in the Hill Country. Sunday is for mountain biking, On Monday, they’ll simply relax and enjoy the company, she said, describing the weekend as “a way for us to connect and be active while maintaining social distance.”
“We’re a mixed group of climbers, cavers, and acro-yogis who are all excited to see each other again for the first time in months,” Richardson-Jameson said. “But there won’t be any hugs.”
After three months with many people self-quarantined, many San Antonio residents plan to venture outside for Memorial Day weekend, when Texas rivers tend to be full of water after spring rains and the weather feels on the verge of summer heat.
Avoiding crowds will be a challenge for anyone wanting to use public lands this weekend. Many public outdoor areas have not yet fully reopened, and most of those spaces that were made available have already been reserved.
Getting the right equipment has also been difficult, with a nationwide shortage of bicycles and other sporting goods affecting the U.S. In San Antonio this week, shoppers at stores such as Academy Sports + Outdoors had all but cleared shelves of bikes, kayaks, shade umbrellas, and camping gear.
For many in Central Texas, tubing a river is a Memorial Day weekend must-do. Getting into the Comal River in New Braunfels will be easier for tubers after the reopening of a popular access point below the San Antonio Street bridge on May 12. The area had been blocked off since September as the Texas Department of Transportation widened the bridge from 30 feet to 48 feet.
Since earlier this month, Texas state parks and natural areas are open for day use by reservation. As of Monday, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department began allowing camping again for those who had made reservations before the shutdown. The department is not accepting any new camping reservations.
At Canyon Lake northeast of San Antonio, a popular Memorial Day destination for those looking to escape the heat, some facilities are open. However, the popular Canyon Park and its swim beach are closed because of the pandemic, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The corps’ camping areas around Canyon Lake at Potters Creek and Cranes Mill are open, though almost all sites have already reserved through the weekend.
On the South Side, CPS Energy’s Calaveras and Braunig lakes have reopened after a closure in mid-April. The lakes used as cooling water for the City-owned utility’s coal and gas plants are fishing hotspots stocked with sport fish such as catfish and red drum.
Camping will be closed this weekend, along with playground areas and stores, according to CPS Energy. Park capacity will be limited to 1,500, and no more than four people will be allowed in a boat.
“CPS Energy was one of the early adopters of social distancing, and we will continue to maintain those practices at our facilities,” said Brian Spruiell, the utility’s director of facility operations, in a prepared statement.
City, County, and San Antonio River Authority parks have remained open during the pandemic, except for around Easter, when officials closed them to put a stop to the overnight camping that traditionally occurs that weekend.
Michael Gramley, the river authority’s recreation superintendent, said the increased number of visitors is proving the value of restoring wildlife habitat and building parks and trails along the river and the creeks that flow into it.
“We’re seeing that first-hand right now,” Gramley said. “Across the board, I think people are just getting outside.”
The river authority uses what its staff call “eco-counters” to keep track of people using its trails. On the Museum Reach north of downtown, 67 percent more people visited last month than in April 2019, according to the river authority. On the Mission Reach, traffic was 55 percent higher than it was a year ago.
Across much of the City, a network of approximately 70 miles of greenway trails weaves together many of the river authority, City, and County parks.
Rick Shaw, a San Antonio resident and retired U.S. Army officer, said he plans to spend part of the weekend riding his bike on some of the less-trafficked portions of the greenway trails on the South Side.
He finds it an alternative to City parks like Friedrich Wilderness Park and Eisenhower Park, which are becoming increasingly crowded most weekends, not just on holidays like Memorial Day.
“Last time I went there, it was crammed full of people,” Shaw said. “I think people have discovered it.”
Disclosure: CPS Energy is a Rivard Report business member. For a full list of supporters, click here.