East Bay parks like Tilden will stay open during shelter-in-place orders, after a temporary closure. Photo: David Abercrombie

Roland Burgmann was shocked to come back from his Tilden Park run on Tuesday morning to find a $43 ticket on his car, from East Bay Regional Park District police “by order of county health dept shelter in place.”

And the UC Berkeley professor was not the only confused park-goer that morning. All over Twitter, hikers and dog-walkers were posting photographs of closed trails and signs saying parks across the region would be shuttered throughout the entire duration of the shelter-in-place order.

That confounded the visitors because outdoor activities are considered “essential” under the new regional rules, meaning they’re among the few reasons someone can legally leave their home.

The mixed messages and closed parks show that public entities and private businesses alike are scrambling to try to figure out how to comply with Monday’s sweeping order, the public health demands of the COVID-19 crisis and dwindling staff numbers.

Dave Mason, East Bay Regional Park District spokesman, clarified that the park closures are only temporary.

Entrances were shut off “to address shelter-in-place needs and staffing limitations,” Mason said in phone interview around 12:30 p.m. Tuesday. Most parks and trails will reopen in the next day or two, he said. EBRPD plans to put out clarifying information later Tuesday.

Burgmann will also be relieved to hear that “they have collected the tickets and are tearing them up,” according to Mason.

“Our public safety is using education for folks,” Mason said, “knowing obviously this is a unique emergency.”

The park district and health officers across the Bay Area have actively encouraged residents to take advantage of the great outdoors while the COVID-19 pandemic keeps everyone cooped up inside and away from gyms.

“We understand that nature is a great place to get exercise and rejuvenate your mind, body and soul – especially in time of crisis,” EBRPD said in a news release Sunday. “A walk on a trail, around your neighborhood or private backyard will allow you to breathe fresh air and help to reduce stress and anxiety.”

Mason said visitors should be prepared for limited provisions on trails, and the closure of campgrounds and swimming sites.

“Building facilities will be closed, including bathrooms and other amenities due to the shelter-in-place directive,” he said. “If people visit the parks they must follow the social distancing requirements. They should bring water and hand sanitizer. They should be prepared that they might see less park staff.”

And an important heads-up for dog owners especially: EBRPD will not be collecting garbage, so visitors must carry all trash they generate back home with them.

At a press conference Monday, Bay Area health officers encouraged local jurisdictions to spread information about the shelter-in-place order before jumping into enforcement of the new laws. The order is meant to stem the spread of COVID-19 through Bay Area communities, and officials said they hope to inspire voluntary compliance.

Like Bergmann, Serina Garst wrote to Berkeleyside that she too was surprised to see officers issuing tickets at Tilden, where she also tried to go for a run Tuesday.

Tweets also show the entrance to the Claremont Canyon hill blocked off by a sign saying it’s closed by order of the Alameda and Contra Costa county health departments. Another park had a sign announcing a closure from March 16 to April 7. At Point Isabel, confusingly, the signs said the park was closed because of fire hazard.

Garst said she hoped they would reopen to give some relief to parents while schools are closed.

Under the unprecedented circumstances, Burgmann said, some seniors and families especially “see the park as the only refuge they have left.”

Natalie Orenstein reports on housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. Natalie was a Berkeleyside staff reporter from early 2017 to May 2020. She had previously contributed to the site since 2012,...