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SLO park rangers patrolling hiking trails as nice weather draws crowds

Posted at 7:57 AM, Apr 23, 2020

On a warm, breezy Earth Day in San Luis Obispo, a Nipomo man walked six feet behind his friend as they hiked Cerro San Luis.

"Kinda brings back memories," John Tarabini said. "We trained here every day for the Camino de Santiago walk in Spain, so now we're back getting some fresh air and reliving the experience."

A lot has changed since Tarabini hiked in Spain with his friend, Stephen Perkins, last year. But their Wednesday morning hike felt just as good as they remembered.

"It's nice getting out and about, and geeze, the views out here today are unbelievable," Perkins said.

Perkins and Tarabini were just two of many hikers scaling the Central Coast hillsides.

"The trail popularity is very, very busy right now," SLO Park Ranger Doug Carscaden said. "It's one of the few things open right now for physical and mental well being."

That popularity has been creating congested paths, which forces park rangers to intervene.

At a time when the highly contagious coronavirus continues to spread, failure to maintain social distancing on trails has resulted in the closures of the Pismo Preserve and city to summit portion of Bishop Peak.

"We're doing everything we can to keep open spaces open," Carscaden said. "We've got signs throughout reminding people to mind social distancing, six feet."

Two-way trails are now one-directional to keep hikers apart but at times, there are traffic jams.

"It's like 101 up there right now, maybe because it's Earth Day," Perkins said.

Though there are no specific citations for failure to socially distance, park rangers may intervene when they see large clusters of people on trails.

"We are asking people if they're living in the same household to get an idea of what the group is like," Carscaden said. "We've asked some bigger groups and turned them around at trail heads."

If hikers can keep each other at arms length -- or rather, three arms length -- trails will continue to be a refuge to those cooped up inside most of the day.

"It's really important to get out and get fresh air," Tarabini said. "We're so blessed here in SLO County to have resources like this."

Park rangers suggest counting to three before following another hiker up the trail.