No wonder so many Lake Houston residents are venturing outside during COVID-19. It is people to avoid, not nature, and nothing is as inviting as an outing to one of Texas’ state parks. However, there are a few “new rules” for anyone about to embark on a day trip to a favorite park.
Find a park close to home, the Sierra Club recommends. Long trips require bathroom breaks and visits to gas station convenience stores along the way, and that requires good hygiene. Good hygiene on the road is much like what would be done at home, recommends AARP. Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after using public restrooms. Do not touch fixtures like faucet or door handles, the AARP says. That defeats the purpose of handwashing. Use tissue or paper towels to shield your hands. More advice: Wear disposable gloves when pumping gas. Pay for gas with cards, not mucky cash.
With travel hygiene lessons out of the way, Lake Houston travelers can plan a trip to their favorite, nearby state park. A few operational changes are still in effect at all Texas state parks, based on national and local public health recommendations.
“We’ve suspended all transactions at parks, equipment rentals and in-person interpretive programs,” said Stephanie Salinas Garcia, spokesperson for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. “All group-use facilities, headquarters and other enclosed spaces where people congregate also remain closed.”
Existing social distancing standards and public health recommendations remain in effect. That includes an optional wearing of a face covering and bringing a supply of hand sanitizer.
“We continue to require a 6-foot distance from individuals outside of their own party and we prohibit the gatherings of groups larger than five not part of the same family or household,” Garcia said.
Most Texas state parks limit the number of visitors depending on the park visited and based on several variables, according to Garcia.
“Among the factors each park takes into consideration when we determine the number of visitors for that day are available staffing, emergency services, ongoing construction or facility repairs, parking, the size of the park and the opportunity to spread out our visitors,” she said.
Each park may limit the number of visitors to popular attractions that attract the largest crowds, according to Garcia.
Huntsville State Park, 45 miles north of Lake Houston on Interstate 45, is open for day use and limited camping for those with pre-existing reservations only but advance day pass reservations are required. Their 21 miles of trails, playgrounds, a bird blind and nature center also include the 210-acre Lake Raven available for fishing, swimming or canoeing.
Lake Livingston State Park, also 45 miles north of Lake Houston near Highway 59, is open for day use and limited camping for those with pre-existing reservations. The park offers fishing in one of the largest lakes in the state, swimming, boating, hiking, birding, picnicking and mountain biking.
Sheldon Lake State Park, a mere 13 miles away, is a 2,800-acre recreation and education facility along Sheldon Lake reservoir used primarily for fishing and wildlife observation.
In addition to Texas’ state parks, there are numerous other parks to choose from, including several in or near Kingwood. Harris County Precinct 4 operates Jesse Jones Park and Nature Center in Humble, a 312-acre preserve featuring a 16-mile trail system along Spring Creek.
The City of Houston operates Lake Houston Wilderness Park in New Caney, open for day use only. All facilities there are currently closed. Kingwood Service Association operates River Grove Park, a 74-acre park at the south end of Woodland Hills Drive, and East End Park, a 158-acre park at the east end of Kingwood Drive. Check each park’s webpage first before heading out.
“We find that most visitors want to do the right thing once they understand why a new rule is needed and what they are required to do,” said Garcia. “The rules are clear and there to keep our visitors safe and prevent the spread of COVID-19. We all need to do our part to keep everyone, visitors and staff, safe.”
Garcia recommends visitors purchase their day passes for state parks in advance through the park’s online reservation system, texasstateparks.reserveamerica.com or by calling the customer service line, 512-389-8900, before heading to a park.
“We recommend everyone check our website and social media pages for the latest information before hitting the trails,” said Garcia.
Check out the latest Texas State Parks and Wildlife updates at tpwd.texas.gov, on Twitter @TPWDnews, and Facebook, TexasParksandWildlife. Texas Parks and Wildlife information also in available on Flickr, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Snapchat.