Traditional summer outings may look different in Southwest Austin under COVID-19 guidelines to promote health, safety

A photo of two women walking on a trail with a quote from the story
Many Austin trails will remain open with social distancing recommendations in place for the summer. (Olivia Aldridge and Rachal Russell/Community Impact Newspaper)

Many Austin trails will remain open with social distancing recommendations in place for the summer. (Olivia Aldridge and Rachal Russell/Community Impact Newspaper)

With summer approaching, initial efforts to reopen businesses and allow limited-capacity events across Texas have begun. Safety remains key for business owners and government officials planning events amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and visitors will need to pay attention to announcements when planning to participate in summer activities.

Trails, parks and water holes

Southwest Austin is home to a number of trails, parks, and swimming holes, many of which remain open with limited hours and adjusted regulations to accommodate social distancing.

The Austin Parks and Recreation Department has kept the downtown Ann and Roy Butler Hike & Bike Trail open for one-way pedestrian traffic, with downtown parks including Emma Long Metropolitan Park and Walter E. Long Metropolitan Park requiring preregistration for day passes. Trails in Southwest Austin, including the Violet Crown Trail and the Veloway, remain open to foot and bike traffic.

“With the harsh and stressful but necessary physical distancing orders of COVID-19, it is more important than ever for children and adults to have access to clean water, fresh air and nature,” said Adrienne Longenecker, chief operating officer for the Hill Country Conservancy, which operates the Violet Crown Trail. “Hill Country Conservancy strongly encourages trail users to abide by the distancing standards set in place by the most recent city of Austin Order.”

According to the Travis County Parks Department, park access should be limited to “passive activities, such as walking or hiking,” with visitors following 6-foot distancing guidelines, as of May 8. In Dripping Springs, parks and trails have remained open throughout the pandemic, according to city Parks and Community Services Director Kelly Schmidt.

River tubing outfitters such as Texas Tubes in New Braunfels and San Marcos reopened in May. Texas Tubes recommends visitors bring their own life jackets if possible, although it will provide equipment that is sanitized between uses, according to their website. In Austin, several canoe and kayak rental services are also operating, including Texas Rowing Center, which wipes down equipment between uses and requires masks and social distancing while queuing.

Pools & splash pads

The Centers for Disease Control’s stance, as of April 23, is that it is safe to swim in well-maintained pools, and there is “no evidence that the virus that causes COVID-19 can be spread to people through the water in pools, hot tubs, spas, or water play areas.” However, other considerations, such as crowding and sanitation of facilities, have prompted caution among the operators of certain public pools. The Austin Parks Department, for instance, operates six public pools in the Southwest Austin area and several splash pads. As of May 20, city parks representatives confirmed that they had no updates on plans to reopen pools for the summer season.

The city of Dripping Springs, however, is preparing to reopen the Founders Memorial pool by June 29 at 25% capacity. Schmidt said she still had concerns about the health and safety of opening the pool, but wanted to accommodate the community’s need for recreation.

"I think the challenge as a recreation and parks professional is that people need recreation and relief now more than ever, and that's where the struggle is,” Schmidt said at a May 13 city council meeting.

Community pools run by neighborhood organizations are making similar assessments. The Circle C Neighborhood Association, which oversees the management of four neighborhood pools and a number of aquatic activities, have kept facilities closed with no date set for reopening.

Summer camps

While Gov. Greg Abbott gave a general go-ahead for camps to open May 31, some area camp organizers have not yet decided whether they will matriculate this summer. Others have decided to move forward with adjustments fitting state and local mandates.

Cordovan Art School has already initiated its summer camps for ages 5-16 as of May 26. Cordovan’s camps will follow safety regulations including social distancing, limited class sizes, sanitizing of surfaces and art supplies and mandatory masks for staff, according to the school’s Marketing Manager Susan Wilcox.

“The safety of the students will be our number one concern as we offer camps to children who desperately need some creativity and fun in their routines and for parents who need to work,” Wilcox said.

Oak Hill Drum Studio, which has long held camps for young aspiring percussionists in Southwest Austin, will continue to offer camps featuring one-on-one instruction with the option of in-person or online coaching. Drum sets will be positioned 16 feet apart, and sanitization standards will be ramped up, according to studio director David Mendoza.

Outdoor Attractions

Museums and similar businesses in the Austin area received the go-ahead from Gov. Greg Abbott to begin reopening in May and may continue to operate this summer with restrictions in place.

In South Austin, Vault Stone Shop Gallery will create window galleries instead of opening their facilities and will remain closed until further notice. Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is open by reservation only for two-hour windows, and group reservations are limited to five or fewer people. Austin Zoo will reopen May 29 but with limited ticketing availability and reduced exhibit access. Masks are required, and indoor attractions such as the reptile house are closed.

"The key is going to be to implement some fairly stringent restrictions on people because there are people who are kind of nonchalant about COVID-19, but there are many more people who would like to get out and do something if they were provided a safe environment," Austin Zoo Executive Director Patti Clark said. "That's what we're looking to do. We're looking to protect our animals, and we're looking to make sure that everybody feels totally comfortable when they come to Austin Zoo."

Additionally, water parks, including Typhoon Texas Water Park in Pflugerville, announced plans to open Memorial Day weekend. Schlitterbahn Waterparks & Resort in New Braunfels, however, announced on May 8 that its reopen date was “still uncertain,” and remained closed and quiet for Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start of summer.
By Olivia Aldridge

Multi-Platform Journalist

Olivia hosts and produces Community Impact Newspaper's podcasts, The Austin Breakdown, The Houston Breakdown and The DFW Breakdown. She launched the podcasts after nearly three years as a reporter for the newspaper, covering public health, business, development and Travis County government for the Central Austin edition. Olivia worked as a reporter and producer for South Carolina Public Radio before moving to Texas.