HAYWARD, Calif. - The "great outdoors" never closed during the pandemic: the East Bay Regional Park District saw a 30% jump in visitors last year, and interest is still going strong.
Ira Bletz is a manager at Garin Regional Park in Hayward and he's never seen interest like what he is seeing now during his 41 years with the park system.
Many parks are "hidden away" in the east bay's biggest cities, said Bletz, "right off Mission Boulevard, over the hill, you're in the park."
San Ramon resident Karen McNamara was at Garin recently for a walk with a good friend. She has been coming here for years, "I went to high school down the road and there were always parties here at Garin in the 70s," said McNamara.
The surge the park district saw last year is continuing. People are continuing new habits, including a deep appreciation of parks and open space.
Both Alameda and Contra Costa counties declared ERBP an "essential service" at the beginning of the pandemic for the physical and mental health benefits of being in nature.
"It's just very peaceful and gives us a different perspective on what happened to us last year," said Verna Lee of San Ramon said of Garin Regional Park, "and it's a good way to acclimate being outside our homes."
There are several new and upgraded features across the district's 70-plus parks and 1200 miles of regional trails.
Depending on the park, you can go picnicking, swimming, fishing, camping, or just out for a peaceful walk. With very little cost, or effort you can spend the whole day at a park that feels "a million miles away" without trekking too far from home.