By Don Ford

SANTA ROSA (CBS SF/KPIX) – After the closure of all parks in March, Sonoma County health officer Dr. Sundari Mase ordered a “soft opening” of some parks last month, opening them for people to walk or bike to a park form their homes but keeping parking lots closed except to disabled residents.

The new order issued Tuesday allows park agencies to reopen some parking lots at inland parks and allows the use of some sports facilities like tennis courts and disc golf, but other facilities like playgrounds, picnic areas and dog parks remain closed.

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Opening up the Regional Parks was a big step for Sonoma County, but they’re doing it in a measured and careful way.

One of those parks is Helen Putman Park near Petaluma. Like many parks across Sonoma County, the parking lot is open for locals.

Christel Ngani and his two boys live nearby and were out for a walk. He says they’ve been cooped up for days.

“It’s a nice surprise. I think it’s going to bring some sanity to my life,” said Ngani.

Some spots here are not quite ready. The newly paved lower parking lot will open as soon as the new paint stripes cure. The bathrooms are opening Wednesday, too, after some last minute maintenance and, be warned, parking fees are back.

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“This is what I needed more than anything! This is what gives me, you know…Life. I just love it,” exclaimed Viruth with a deep sigh.

County supervisor David Rabbitt says social distancing is still in effect.

“I think we need our parks more than ever, especially with the last two months of people being cooped up inside, and especially families,” said Supervisor Rabbitt.

Tables sit teen feet apart. Close quarters in group settings are not ok. Tennis courts were reopening too, although, some were still locked, for the moment. That didn’t stop some retired guys from starting a game. They got in by crawling under the fence.

“I just heard about it, like, two hours ago and I immediately called some of these guys and said, ‘Hey! I think we can get in there and play!’ They say social distancing is no problem for them,” said Mark Sturges, an avowed tennis junkie.

Residents should be advised, though, Parking areas along the Sonoma Coast will remain closed to prevent crowding, but coastal residents will be able to walk or bike to parks and beaches there before 11 a.m. or after 5 p.m. Those areas will be closed during the six hours in between to discourage overcrowding.

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