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Karen Brooks Harper

Most people wore masks—or bandanas—at McKinney Falls on the first day the state parks reopened. (Karen Brooks Harper)

Callie Rocha, 23, wanted to hit the rocks early.

Rocha, of Austin, woke up near dawn, packed up her climbing gear, and headed out to McKinney Falls State Park in southeast Austin to be the first one to climb the boulders after the parks reopened on Monday.

Did she do it for the bragging rights? To be No. 1? Not especially.


"Nobody's been touching them," the out-of-work restaurant employee said. "I thought I'd be the first one to touch those rocks without any germs on them."

She doubts she'll return until the threat of COVID-19 has passed because she figures more germy hands may land on them in short order.

She may be right. Visitors flocked on Monday to McKinney Falls, among the first of Texas' 89 state parks to reopen, per the governor's Friday order, after they were shut down mid-March due to concerns about the coronavirus.

Just over a dozen are still closed but could open later in the summer, parks officials said.

In Central Texas, parks that are reopening include Pedernales Falls, Possum Kingdom, Lyndon B. Johnson State Park and Historic Site, Longhorn Cavern, Lockhart State Park, Lake Whitney, Mineral Wells, Inks Lake, Garner, Blanco and Bastrop state parks.

Some limitations apply: Visitors are required to wear face masks, avoid large groups, and maintain six feet of distance between themselves and others. No overnight camping is being allowed yet—day use only.

At McKinney the swings were removed from the swing set to discourage use of the playground, which was off-limits. Roads to campsites were closed. Visitors were required to pre-register and then pick up their car permits stuck onto a kiosk just inside the grounds.

A park official greeted visitors and waved them through, eyes twinkling above a homemade decorative mask.

"Great to have y'all back!" she said cheerfully.

By lunchtime, there was a short line of cars waiting to get inside, the parking lots were half full, and visitors—nearly all of them wearing masks—dotted the falls, the picnic areas, the fishing pools and the swimming holes in sunny 80-degree weather.

"It was busier (than a normal Monday) due to people wanting to be outside," said Stephanie Salinas Garcia, public information officer for Texas Parks and Wildlife.

On Friday, Gov. Greg Abbott announced a multi-phased plan to reopen the Texas economy after weeks of social-distancing measures—and the parks were the first to come back online.

"We've been stir-crazy," said Tom Web, who traveled from New Braunfels with his wife, Beth, to hike the park. "Just cooped up in our house. We like to hike and get outdoors."

Austin veterinarian Frank Schuman, his wife Natalie, their three children ages 2-15, and aunt Marina Villarreal, headed to the falls to swim and get away from homeschooling doldrums.

One drawback: Masks in the heat.

"I'm hoping I don't break out," Natalie Schuman said.


The scene at McKinney Falls State Park today

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