With the coronavirus continuing to spread into more of Texas’s rural counties, Gov. Greg Abbott ordered all state parks and historic sites closed until further notice.

All state parks, natural areas, and historic sites administered by the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife (TPWD) and the Texas Historical Commission will close by 5 p.m. Tuesday, Abbott’s office announced.

Abbott said in a prepared statement Tuesday morning that the closures are meant to prevent people from gathering in large groups. Approximately 740,000 people visited Texas state parks in March, according to the TPWD.

“Social distancing is our best tool to curb the spread of COVID-19 and save lives,” Abbott said.

Of Texas’ 254 counties, 157 have at least one confirmed case of coronavirus, a significant rise from 43 counties on March 22. The state has more than 7,200 cases, with 140 deaths attributed to the virus, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

The statewide parks closure follows individual closures of some state parks, including Government Canyon State Natural Area in Bexar County, which closed March 24. Last week, Big Bend National Park also closed to outside visitors.

“Given the myriad of challenges and heightened risks of operating the parks at this time, we believe this is the best course of action right now in order to meet the health and safety expectations the state has set out for the citizens of Texas,” Carter Smith, TPWD executive director, said in a prepared statement. “During the closure, staff will continue to steward and care for the parks to ensure they can be immediately reopened to visitors at the appropriate time.”

TPWD officials also said Tuesday that they will refund day passes purchased through the reservation system. TPWD customer service staff will contact those who have made reservations for day use and overnight stays, in order of arrival date.

In San Antonio, City parks remain open this week, though the City’s Parks and Recreation Department has closed basketball courts, skate parks, splash pads, and indoor facilities. The City and Bexar County are also closing most parks this weekend to avoid the influx of visitors they typically receive around Easter.

All County parks and park amenities will be closed at 9 a.m. on Friday, April 10, reopening at 9 a.m. on Monday, April 13. All City parks, dog parks, and park amenities will be closed to the public effective at 11:59 p.m. on Friday, reopening at 5 a.m. on Monday.

The City is making an exception for its network of 70 miles of linear creekway trails, which will remain open Easter weekend. Running, walking, and cycling are permitted on these trails, as long as people follow social distancing recommendations and stay 6 feet apart.

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Brendan Gibbons

Brendan Gibbons is a former senior reporter at the San Antonio Report. He is an environmental journalist for Oil & Gas Watch.