In New Braunfels, residents and visitors have begun returning to the Comal and Guadalupe rivers as summer approaches and COVID-19 restrictions ease.

Ongoing vaccination efforts and declining new coronavirus cases have brought an increase in visitors to area parks and businesses that offer river access, said Stacey Dicke, director of the New Braunfels Parks and Recreation Department.

“Our rentals have really picked up," Dicke said. "People are planning for summer get-togethers because they're vaccinated, and they feel safe getting together. We're planning to open our pool to 100% capacity, where last year was at 50%. We’re gearing up for, I would say, a regular summer season.”

The 2020 river season was cut short by Gov. Greg Abbott’s June 26 executive order GA-28 restricted the activities of river outfitters.

For the more than 30 river outfitters in the city, closing for the majority of the summer season resulted in significant financial losses.

“We had to lay off employees who worked here for years and who are counting on these jobs,” said Matthew Hoyt, owner of Corner Tubes. “Not to mention, I lost my job doing this.”

Though executive order GA-32, which went into effect on Oct. 14, permitted businesses to reopen at 50-75% capacity depending on regional COVID-19 hospitalization rates, the usual river season had already ended, and area outfitters largely remained closed.

Outfitters began preparing for a new season ahead of spring break for area schools in March, and Hoyt said it was a process that involved rehiring employees and looked much the same as previous years.

“All the vehicle prep and the tube prep is the same regardless of how long we’re closed,” Hoyt said. “It’s exciting getting back to work, getting people their jobs back and people down the river having fun.”

Some tubing businesses will continue to encourage mask-wearing while on shuttle buses, and city day camps will continue to limit group sizes, but Dicke said this season will largely look the same as previous years. The $2 river access fee will remain in place, though it is waived for New Braunfels residents.

“My hope is ... that this is an opportunity for people to get outside and do something fun—do something they've in many cases been doing ... for generations,” Hoyt said. “I believe this is going to be a pretty normal season when it's all said and done.”

Summer also brings an increased demand for parking, and road construction near Landa Park could mean longer walks for those who normally park and walk to the river.

“Right ... between Landa Park and Hinman Island Park, that’s all under construction,” Dicke said. “The routes people normally take will be diverted, and our two big parking lots on Elizabeth Avenue will be closed.”

While Hinman Island Drive is expected to reopen in May for thru traffic, parking lots on Elizabeth Avenue will remain closed throughout the summer, Dicke said. Parking at Prince Solms Park will be $20.

River parking passes are available for New Braunfels residents and will allow them to park on E. San Antonio St., a portion of E. Mill Street and Hinman Island Drive at no cost.

Public parking is also available downtown, though Dicke recommends those visiting the river be dropped off and picked up by a river outfitter shuttle or a ride service.

“There is a public parking lot downtown that is available. It feels like it’s far away, but it’s not really that far away to walk to Prince Solms from there,” Dicke said. “If they could get dropped off, that’s the easiest.”

Planning around parking

When planning a trip to the river, it is important to consider parking options. Due to ongoing construction, some parking options will be closed this summer, and others may be too far from the river for some visitors.

Closed parking:

Elizabeth Avenue parking lots

Hinman Island Drive (closed until May)

Paid parking:

Prince Solms Park- $20 per vehicle

Hinman Island Drive - $30 per vehicle

East San Antonio Street - $20 per vehicle

E. Mill Street - $20 per vehicle

Free parking:

Residents of New Braunfels can obtain up to three parking passes per household by visiting the Parks and Recreation Administrative Office at 110 Golf Course Rd. or by calling 830-221-4350. Pass holders will be able to park on E. San Antonio St., E. Mill St., and Hinman Island Drive for free.

Public parking in downtown New Braunfels is available in a lot located at the corner of N. Seguin Ave. and E. Bridge Street.

Street parking throughout much of the city is restricted from May 1 through Labor Day.