Ray Roberts closes gate to visitors, reopening date unsure
Effective 5 p.m. Tuesday, all Texas State Parks will be closed to the public in response to the COVID-19 pandemic at the direction of Gov. Greg Abbott.
Texas state parks will be closed to the public to maintain the safest environment for visitors, volunteers and staff, according to a press release from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department will continue to push out up-to-date information with public health recommendations and announce a re-opening date accordingly.
“Despite the implementation of increasingly restrictive visitor use measures to help minimize the transmission of COVID-19 at parks, TPWD has reached a point where public safety considerations of those in the parks, and in the surrounding communities, must take precedence over continued operations,” according to tpwd.texas.gov. “Difficulty in ensuring compliance with social distancing, problems in maintaining adequate supplies and keeping park facilities sufficiently sanitized are only a few of the challenges encountered by state park staff.”
Park visitation numbers are collected monthly and the data from March will not be available until sometime in late April, Stephanie Garcia from the press office of Texas Parks and Wildlife said.
“Early indications appear as though we will have a decline in visitation due to efforts to manage crowds,” she said. “Staff will be working as a skeleton crew based on the operations and needs of the specific park.”
There have been no layoffs or furloughs of field staff at the state parks, Garcia said.
“This will be managed through guidance to our employees as well as assignments of work areas following CDC recommendations for proper social distancing,” she said. “Site superintendents and safety officers will guide staff in this effort.”
Aubrey resident Shaun Boyle pulled up to the entrance of the Isle du Bois Unit as the state park staff worked on clearing out park attendees closing the gates.
“It’s kind of a coin flip,” Boyle said concerning his thoughts on the closures. “I understand why they’re doing it, but it was one of the few getaways for those of us on furlough or less hours, things like that.”
He has been using fishing and kayaking as his way to pass the time while being on furlough from his IT job in Addison, saying he was planning on “making the most of a bad situation.”
“I was just going to fish every day until furlough ends in hopes that it ended, you know, in late May,” he said. “This caught me as a surprise.”
It also caught regular parkgoers Lois and Spike Eskins, who had driven over from Frisco on Tuesday and arrived after 5 p.m., by surprise.
The park staff had been working to prepare for the closure since Abbott’s announcement early that morning, Park Superintendent Mark Stewart said to Lois when she asked him when the park would reopen.
“They will be announcing when we do open,” Stewart said to Lois. “It will be out on Facebook.”
Spike is a Vietnam War veteran, she said, and they are both in the high-risk category.
“We love to just come up here,” Lois said. “… It’s OK. We’d rather be safe than sick.”
Managing Editor Abigail Allen contributed to this report.