Answering Your Questions About Getting Outdoors

As we continue to navigate these unprecedented times, KCBS Radio is getting the answers to your questions about the coronavirus pandemic. Every morning at 9:20 a.m. Monday-Friday we're doing an "Ask An Expert" segment with a focus on a different aspect of this situation each day.

Today we're going to take a closer look at your options to get outside for the Memorial Day weekend with John Poimiroo, one of California's foremost ambassadors to the outdoors, member of the California Outdoors Hall of Fame and principal for the travel and outdoor communications firm "Poimiroo and Partners".

These are certainly odd times, when the one thing Californians love doing the most has been taken out of hand. What is your sense so far as to how people are dealing with this hunker down order?

Well people are trying to get outdoors and recreate, and there's nothing wrong with recreating outdoors. The problem is when you cluster. We're very social beings and we want to get together with others but when we cluster, public agencies get worried and concerned. Many public land areas, particularly campgrounds, are closed this Memorial Day weekend and that's making it tough for people to go out and enjoy the outdoors. 

Now you've been around this game for a long time, everything from the ski business to the outdoors in general, parks and so on. Are there any broad ideas you have for people that would keep them out of harm’s way, out of trouble and able to get outside and get some air?

Part of it was just what I said. When you see clustering, avoid that. If you do that, public lands agencies are probably going to stay open. But as soon as people gather together in large groups, that's when they get nervous. Carry a mask when you're out hiking and so forth. If you're by yourself or with your family members you don't have to wear the mask but as soon as you see others, put it on. If I'm going down a trail, either riding a bike or walking, when I see people I put the mask on, I pass them and then I take it off. That's good protocol.

Let's get to some of the questions that have come in via email to askus@kcbsradio.com.

We love camping but most of the state parks are closed. Do you know of any state or national parks or anything open for camping? If not, any idea on when they'll reopen? 

Well all the national forest campgrounds are open and I would recommend people go to recreation.gov and see which ones have availability. But I will tell you, I was just on the phone with people up in Shasta and Trinity, which are open, however they've got very limited opportunities. Here's the tip: go early, show up early because there are some first come, first served campgrounds that are going to be available. Those who arrive tomorrow morning are probably going to get those last first come, first served campgrounds. If you arrive on Saturday morning there's going to be nothing available. So it's either go online and make a reservation through recreation.gov or one of the other sites or show up early and try and get one of the first come, first served sites. That's one tip.

There are also a number of private campgrounds throughout the state that are open. And I would recommend that you look at a site called thedyrt.com. They're a private site, they list a number of campgrounds that are open and are available. This closure varies by county. I live in El Dorado County and there's very few restrictions in El Dorado County. Some the rural counties have very few restrictions, though we are still sheltering and wearing masks and so forth. In some parts of the state, it's almost normal. In other parts of the state particularly the Bay Area, it's very much shut down and with reason. And so you've gotta know where it's closed and where it isn't and that site will help you find private campgrounds that are open.

You mentioned the national forests, so the Shasta and Trinity national forests is where you'll find these campgrounds that are open?

Yes, but like I say most of the reservations have been filled now. So there's only a few first come, first served sites that are going to be available at any location. What I've found when going out to find camping is there are more lesser known campgrounds that are still beautiful campgrounds. For example, up in the Trinity area there are some campgrounds that are right on the lake that are well known, but those that are off in the woods that perhaps don't have water access or whatever are still great campgrounds. They'll probably have availability longer than those that are in the prime locations.

One more question before we move to the next listener question. So you're in rural California, how do you all feel about all of us from the Bay Area flocking your way?

Well I think locals are very concerned about people bringing in the virus. And of course our county covers South Lake Tahoe, we've had closures up at South Lake Tahoe and so forth. The best way to act if you're going out into rural areas - because no one knows who's carrying the virus, none of us know if we're carrying it unless we've been tested - is to always wear the mask, be mindful that you are a visitor and when you're out on the trails and so forth recreating, have a good time but make sure you're using social distancing and using precautions.

We heard reports a while back that Lake Tahoe specifically didn't want people coming up there. Do you know if that's changed? Are motels open?

I don't know. I don't have that particular information on South Lake Tahoe, but the best way to find that out is simply go to the South Lake Tahoe website, they will tell you. In fact, any location - if you're listening and say, "well this guy doesn't know my particular area where I want to go," I don't know the entire state, every location - but I would recommend you use websites to search for the specific place you want to go. If you want to go to the town of Quincy, there's a site out there that's going to help you, that's going to tell you what they're doing in Quincy. And that's one of the rural areas of Plumas County, a beautiful place to camp and fish and so forth. You want to basically look ahead and plan your trip so that you just don't arrive and then realize there's no place to stay and you've wasted time.

You know we've all been so focused on the pandemic stories, I think typically this time of year a big story would be, how much snow is there and what's the weather been like? So what's it like in high country this year?

We've had a little bit of snow this last week, but that's not sticking. There is snow at the upper elevations and there will be into the summer at the highest elevations, but ski areas have been closed for some time. It's still quite beautiful, there's beautiful snow-capped peaks all over the Tahoe basin for example, and throughout the Sierra Nevada. But in fact it really is not a skiing vacation at this point.

When should we expect trail running races to open back up in the East Bay or Marin headlands? 

It depends on those local agencies and the confidence they have that they can run group events. At this point, the state parks closed their campgrounds until August. So that's the same kind of group clustering that occurs with a big event where you have a lot of people in one location. So I don't see that those trail running events are going to open except in remote, rural areas where there's not a lot of impact or people for some time. And even at that, because we don't know who carries the virus I think public officials are going to be very cautious about opening up those events any time soon.

You've been around the ski industry for a long time, do you have any ideas as to what sorts of plans that industry is making for next winter, assuming we're still where we are now?

I haven't talked to them but the ski industry, like all aspects of the California travel industry is the most sophisticated in the world as far as their particular sport and their recreation. Clearly, we are in a different kind of situation than we've ever been before. So I'm sure there will be efforts at ski areas this coming winter - next winter, I should say - to basically change the way we interact. That'll probably happen most in the lodges, in the places where we all congregate. It won't happen on ski lifts which are naturally distanced. Except for those people that are on the lift; there might be requirements we all wear helmets and neck gaiters and so forth to pull up, that might be something that's more common.

In general, do I need to wear a mask if I'm outdoors running, cycling or hiking?

I'm a cyclist and I was riding just yesterday and I didn't wear a mask when I'm cycling. Generally, the reports are that the chance of exposure is very low when you're recreating outdoors. However again, when you're near other people that's when the problem occurs. So if you're running along and there's good distance, don't worry about it. But if you are in a situation where you're running with other people or passing them very frequently at close distance - less than six feet - I would put a mask on. I will tell you, it's very difficult to recreate while wearing a mask. Riding a bike, we tried it - I'm on the bike patrol on the American River Parkway - and it's just difficult to do it. But I would say that if you're by yourself or there's good distance I think you're probably going to find that you'll be fine.

What's open in parks? Just the trails but not picnic areas?

The state parks have got some parking lots open and where there's parking that's open, usually the trails are open. What they're saying is, if you can come and park, yes you can go out on a trail and hike. It all depends on the park itself, whether it's a national park or a state park. The national forests have camping open and their trails are open, so the national forests are more open. BLM, their campgrounds are still closed but in fact the trail areas tend to be open.

I'm hoping to take my daughter to Stinson Beach on Friday for her 5th birthday, do you know if it’s open?

I don't, I don't know specifically Stinson Beach. But again that's so easy to find, if you go on the website you can look up Stinson Beach and see what the situation is. A lot of the beaches are open, however again social distancing is prescribed and wearing a mask when you're close to other people is recommended.

I might be able to help on this one, I hope my information is still correct. As of a few days ago, the parking lots at Stinson Beach were closed. You could walk onto the beach itself of course, which meant you had to park somewhere else. 

And that leads to another question: I saw one or two national parks - Joshua Tree and Redwood National Park - are open for day use for hiking and biking etc, but when you scroll down all of their parking lots are closed as are all the facilities. So, not really open? What to make of that?

I supposed if you're hiking across the desert and you get into Joshua Tree, you're okay (laughs). The problem with this is when people start to park along highways and along other roads, ancillary roads nearby. I personally think that that's kind of self-defeating when you say, "we're open but the parking lots closed." People are going to find another way to park. I wish they would manage it differently but in this case, I would say yeah you can hike there if they say you can, but you just can't park. So you're going to have to figure out another way to get there. I would personally find a place where I could park and hike without those restrictions.

Just got confirmation from Kim Wonderley, our traffic anchor who lives in Marin County and was over at Stinson a couple of days ago that the parking lot is closed. Sandwich boards in town discourage parking but you actually can park for two hours. So that 5th birthday party should be a quick one with little bit of a walk involved, it sounds like.

You know Stan, this weekend's going to be tough everywhere. So if you're thinking you're going to have a birthday party at Stinson Beach, forget about it. Find a place where you can go. There are many, many community parks and local parks that are outside the restricted areas where you can get great social distancing. You don't have to be at a national park or a state park to enjoy yourself. There are many county parks and so forth that'll probably have openings. And like I say, thedyrt.com has a list of some of those, there are many other listings. If you search online, you'll find them.

That's great advice. You don't have to be where everybody else is.

Right, I would avoid it.

More now than ever, right? Next one: I tried to make a reservation for a campsite, went online and it said they weren't taking any reservations online, only in person. I went early in the morning last Saturday, first in line only to find out they took reservations over the phone and were fully booked. What should I do?

I'm not sure from this question where the campsite was.

I'm not either, and that's one thing the public doesn't understand. There are national parks which are managed different, U.S. national forests managed differently, state parks managed differently, BLM managed differently, county parks managed different, water districts managed differently; you can go on and on and on and on. Even private companies like PG&E have campgrounds. So each organization is going to manage its campgrounds differently.

Recreation.gov is one way to find a campground across many of those agencies. They use recreation.gov and that might be your best bet. But we started this program by saying, be the first one there. First come, first served. And so if you can leave now and go to Shasta or Trinity, you might be able to secure one of those open spots not reserved. But who knows how long they're going to last? This is a big weekend, people have been sheltered for several months, we're anxious to get out and recreate. I'd hate to drive the long distance to Shasta Lake and then find out that there's nothing there. But that's what I'm told by the people up there, there are first come, first served campgrounds available now, probably through tomorrow morning and that's it, they'll be gone.

I think I already know the answer because I check this every day, but can you ask the expert about the return of short term rentals in Tahoe? I know for now it’s a no-go but we’ve got a west shore cabin booked in mid-June. Curious if there’s any deeper knowledge than what I pick up online.

No, not any deeper knowledge and I'm close to it because I have a home at North Tahoe. We don't rent out, but I watch what's going on with the rentals in our neighborhood. It's really by county. There are two counties at Lake Tahoe; the north side is Placer, the south side is El Dorado. And each of those counties and the cities involved such as South Lake Tahoe, which set its own rules, they set the rules. And so you have to look at that. Then of course there's Nevada; the Nevada side has its own rules too. You really gotta basically be your own researcher and be on top of it if you want to go back and rent a place up there.