With temperatures in the 80s and Austin residents heading out to public parks in large numbers, day passes will once again be required for anyone visiting Emma Long Metropolitan Park in West Austin or Walter E. Long Metropolitan Park in East Austin starting March 12.

Passes for vehicles or pedestrians and bicycles can be reserved online. People without internet access can call Austin's Parks and Recreation Department at 512-974-6797 from 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday to make a reservation. There is no additional fee for the day passes; regular rates for both parks still apply.

The passes are to limit overcrowding and ensure social distancing at both parks. They will be required March 12-Oct. 31 for vehicles and March 12-Sept. 7 for pedestrians and bicycles.

The city of Austin put a similar policy in place in May 2020 to limit visitors during peak times and ensure that all visitors could adequately keep distance from each other, especially in crowded areas, such as along the water. This winter, when temperatures dropped and park use decreased, passes were not required.

After they receive a pass and arrive at the park, visitors will not be allowed to travel in and out, according to the parks and recreation department. Visitors should be prepared to stay at the park until they are ready to leave.

Austin and Travis County remain in Stage 4 of COVID-19 risk, which means health officials are recommending that individuals avoid gatherings greater than 10 people and that businesses open at 25%-50% capacity.

Gov. Greg Abbott lifted a statewide order March 10 that restricted business capacity and imposed a mask order. Despite the lack of a statewide policy requiring masks, Austin and Travis County will both continue to enforce mandatory face mask requirements.