Hikers returned to the trails in the mountains and beach areas around Los Angeles County on Saturday, taking in scenic views, enjoying slightly cooler temperatures and breathing in fresh air through their face masks.
Off-limits during the COVID-19 pandemic, trails at Temescal Canyon and other areas were allowed to reopen, giving Los Angeles-area residents tired of staying indoors a chance to get some exercise and enjoy nature.
"We've been waiting for this," said Christian Ditter, hiking at Temescal with his wife, Maria, and 11-year-old twin daughters and 8-year-old son.
The Ditters said they were excited to be back on the trails instead of hiking their own neighborhood.
Santa Monica resident Janis Flax arrived at Temescal Canyon in Pacific Palisades at 6 a.m. and was excited to get out on the trails.
"The bunnies are back big time," Flax said. "The California quail, I call them roadrunners, some of them are back. I haven't seen them in years. The hummingbirds are everywhere. There's so many more birds."
Although trails opened, residents appeared to be cautious to return outdoors. A SoCal Connected producer said about 10 cars were in the Temescal parking lot Saturday morning. Under normal conditions, the lot might have contained 50 by that time.
County health officials had warned on Friday that COVID-19 continues to claim lives and that staying home remains the best option, especially for people over 65 years old. Through Friday, Los Angeles County reported 30,296 confirmed cases and 1,468 deaths.
"As these places reopen, we do need to remember the new normal," Dr. Barbara Ferrer, Los Angeles County’s health director, told reporters on Friday. "When we're out and about more, we have to behave as if anyone could be infected with COVID-19 and that we also could be infected. It is possible to infect people and be positive for COVID-19 even when you have no symptoms at all."
For those hitting the trails, face masks or coverings are required, along with physical distancing of six feet. Most people appeared to be adhering to the policy.
"We take it on and off," Christian Ditter said. "When we see people we put it on and when we are alone, we take it off .... We saw only one person so far without a mask on out of 30 or 40."
Hikers also appeared to be keeping their distance, turning their backs toward each other when passing.
Wildlife biologist Korinna Domingo, founder and director of the Cougar Conservancy, said two months of reduced recreation may not have been long enough to have a significant effect on wildlife behavior, and some people ignored the closure anyway. Hikers should not be worried about a heightened risk of encountering rattlesnakes or mountain lions.
"Anxiety is induced in animals, including humans, by a threat to well-being or survival, either actual or potential," Domingo said. "So while nervousness has its place, there is no need for it when you are planning your weekend hike. Simply taking precautions to reduce risks will equip you for a fun-filled, safe weekend."
Domingo advised hikers to comply with COVID-19 rules, but also head out with water, sun protection, maps and GPS. The likelihood of encountering a cougar, for example, is unlikely. Most scientists who study them rarely see them, she said.
"You have more of a likelihood of being hit by lightning than being attacked by a cougar," Domingo said.
Domingo offered these tips for safe hiking:
- Be alert and aware of your surroundings. Keep children within arm’s reach, and don’t recreate with earbuds in so you can hear an animal coming.
- Hike in groups and chat with others as you walk so animals know you are coming. Clap around blind turns, switchbacks, or when walking up a big hill that you can’t see over.
- Keep dogs on leashes so they cannot wander and potentially harass or injure wildlife.
- Carry bear spray or an air horn to scare away an imminent attacker, including a mountain lion.
- Wear sturdy boots; never go barefoot or wear sandals to avoid rattlesnake bites.
- Don't put your hands or step where you cannot see; be careful when climbing rocks; and check stumps or logs before sitting down to avoid snakes or other animals.
And, she said, stick to the COVID-19 rules for masks and social distancing.
"We really need to take the time to do this right or they are going to get closed again," Domingo said. "This is life or death and we need to take it seriously."