With many COVID-19 restrictions recently lifted, outdoor summer activities across Sonoma County have become increasingly abundant. Folks throughout the county are now returning in great numbers to various public areas, heading out for day trips down the Russian River or for excursions to the coast. With increased popularity, it’s important that the public stay aware of standing rules and regulations regarding usage of these communal waterfront locations.
One popular travel destination located along the lower part of the Russian River is Monte Rio Beach, known to be the largest public beach along the river.
“The beach is public, so it's open year round. Since summer has started, people have been coming to the beach in droves,” explained Sherry Pimsler, the district administrator for Monte Rio Recreation and Park District. Although the beach is open all hours, concessions offered at the location are not. Beach concessions and amenities are open Fridays through Mondays, from 11 a.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. on weekends, closing at 6 p.m. Parking at Monte Rio is free, however the gate to the lower parking lot does close at sundown. This means that individuals staying past the gate closure must be sure to park in the large middle parking lot.
Located in Guerneville, Johnson’s Beach is another desirable location along the Russian River. This long stretch of pebbled riverfront is the ideal spot for a summer getaway. Somewhat similar to Monte Rio, Johnson’s Beach is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. through the summer months of June 11 to Aug. 22. However on Aug. 23, beach access will be limited to weekends only, and this will continue until Dec. 25. Unlike Monte Rio, parking at Johnson’s Beach is $7 per car. It is also important for beachgoers to note that alcohol, barbecues and pets are all strictly prohibited.
During the pandemic, Johnson’s Beach implemented a unique beach reservation policy in order to ensure safe public social distancing. Guests were required to make a reservation online before coming, enabling them to rent distanced spots on the beach. Each was 10-feet in diameter and was provided with an umbrella. Riverfront spots were $40 a day, second-row spots were $25 a day, and ‘spots’ beyond row 2 were $15 a day. Each section had the maximum capacity of four people. Although social distancing rules were recently revised, Johnson’s has continued use of this reservation policy and a touchless check-in process.
While these lasting COVID-19 regulations continue, mask usage protocols have been modified per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recommendations, not only at Johnson’s Beach but at other local public spaces as well.
“The CDC has revised their guidance about mask wearing regarding who's vaccinated or not vaccinated. As far as Monte Rio is concerned, anyone who is not vaccinated is still required to wear a mask inside the office and the boat rental office,” said Pimsler in reference to Monte Rio’s covid protocols.
Mask requirement signage has also been taken down at many beaches, like along the coast at Doran Beach. “We have taken down all of our COVID signage, so we're really relying on people to be aware of their own vaccination status and follow the current guidelines as appropriate,” said Beth Wyatt, the supervising park ranger for the coastal district which includes Doran.
Doran Beach is located along the coast within Doran Regional park, a 2-mile stretch of beach on Bodega Bay that is open for day use. As a popular destination, the beach and parking spaces are often very crowded, especially on weekends and holidays. This being said, it is open from 7 a.m. to sunset, however in order to ensure a parking space it is highly advised to come before 10 a.m. or after 3 p.m.
“That's been our main message — we want people to come and enjoy the beach, but we don't want them to be frustrated by the time they get there with lack of parking. We want them to have the information that we are filling up quickly so that they have a chance to come out early and enjoy the beach,” explained Wyatt. This is generally true as well of many other public beach access points along the coast.
Aside from lasting COVID protocols, hours of accessibility and parking limitations, another issue to be aware of along particularly the Russian River is the potential for toxic algae. In 2015, a dog died as a result of consuming blue-green algae in the Russian River, and in years following there have been accounts of children and adults who have become sick as well. Symptoms of algae poisoning include headache, congestion, vomiting and more.
“Signage posters on the beach tell visitors to be vigilant and careful. It is advised to bring fresh water for dogs and bathe them when they get home … the same goes for children,” Pimsler said. Although as of now there have been no recent reports of contamination, current high temperatures and decreased water flow as a result of the drought make for an environment where it is extremely important to be cautious.
“The word I would use is cabin fever. The public just has such a desire to get out into the open,” said Pimsler.