NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – Just in time for the hot weekend ahead, New Mexico is opening some of its state parks. However, there are special guidelines in place to avoid spreading COVID-19. Starting May 1, 2020, the state is opening eight of its 35 state parks and is hoping to eventually reopen all of them.

“It’s going to be a trial and error so to speak about…this soft opening with these eight parks,” Christina Cordova, Public Relations Coordinator with New Mexico State Parks, said. “Will kind of help us work out any kinks that we have and making sure we can fully manage a safe environment for our visitors and our staff.”

The eight parks opening first are Cimarron Canyon, Ute Lake, Brantley Lake,
Sumner Lake, Caballo Lake, Cerrillos Hills, Storrie Lake and Villanueva.

The biggest factor in deciding which park would open first was staffing.

“With this hiring freeze, the seasonals haven’t been hired yet for all the parks. So, we must keep in mind that we have to have the necessary staffing in place to open these parks once again,” Cordova said.

Notably off the list of the eight parks are some of the state’s biggest ones like Conchas Lake and Elephant Butte Lake. That’s mostly because these parks can easily get crowded. According to Cordova, last year Elephant Butte Lake saw over 180,000 visitors on the Fourth Of July weekend alone.

“Because of that mass gathering order that’s still in effect, we have to be very careful with those larger parks with how we’ll manage that social distancing,” Cordova said. “Making sure that they have the capacity limits and the social distancing guidelines can be followed is a key factor in deciding which parks can open, when.”

If the mass gathering orders were to stay in effect all summer long, Cordova said that doesn’t mean the larger parks that get crowded would also have to stay closed. The parks that are opening are opening for day-use only, no camping is allowed. There will also be capacity limits that differ depending on the park and social distancing guidelines in place.

The state parks division said it’s not out to cite people but will take action if safety becomes a concern.

“Enforcement is going to be very challenging, to say the least. But, we’re hoping folks that are visiting our state parks are aware that there are going to be some guidelines and some restrictions, and we’re mainly educating people right now, just for their own safety,” Cordova said.

Entrance fees will be waived until May 15 to minimize person-to-person interaction. The state parks division is also encouraging people to only go to the parks closest to them to avoid traveling. There is no timeline given on when all the state parks will reopen, Cordova said it depends on how COVID-19 spreads or slows in the coming weeks.

Before going to a state park, make sure to look up specific guidelines for each park at the state’s park website.

Here is a list of information to verify:

  • State Parks that are open to day-use access and specific hours of operation
  • Visitor capacity guidelines for each State Park
  • Social distancing information
  • Group size restrictions
  • Available facilities
  • Park visitor etiquette
  • Useful supplies to bring including personal cleaning and sanitation products

Here is a full list of the added restrictions in place:

  • No overnight park use
  • Hours of operation may be limited
  • Visitor centers and indoor facilities remain closed
  • Water access and trails will be open, but access may be limited to adhere to social distancing requirements
  • Comfort stations closed in order to ensure social distance; vault toilets open
  • No group shelter use or large organized events, in accordance with continued restrictions on mass gatherings
  • Playgrounds closed
  • No campfires or open fires
  • Limited concession operations