Mental health experts are encouraging people to take walks and enjoy nature as COVID-19 concerns continue. Most springs in Alachua County managed by the Florida Park Service reopened May 13, but Poe Springs Park, a popular natural springs destination, reopened Saturday.
The park, located at 28800 NW 182nd Ave. in High Springs, recently reopened after 12 weeks closed, according to an Alachua County press release. The park will only be open on weekends from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The decision to reopen came from monitoring the county health department’s updates, said Jason Maurer, an Alachua County parks and open space manager. Poe Springs’ staff used feedback from other parks to help guide their own reopening, he added.
Kateena James, a therapist at ReJoyce Counseling Services, said spending time outside is helpful to break up the monotony of in-home duties and quarantine.
“Being outside in nature is therapeutic, and getting sunlight is a natural antidepressant,” James said.
James recommended that anyone enjoying the newly reopened park practice social distancing and be mindful of the pandemic.
The park is taking its own precautions to limit potential spread of COVID-19, according to the press release. Staff monitor the use of swimming areas, gatherings must be limited to fewer than 10 people and avoid sharing swimming equipment.
Staff also clean commonly touched surfaces and restrooms every hour, the release said. Soap and sanitation supplies will be available.
The park will have at least six staff members on site, said Mark Sexton, an Alachua County spokesperson. Standard COVID-19 prevention signs are displayed throughout the park to remind visitors to wash hands and practice social distancing. The signs are located near the bathhouses and the springs at the entrance of the park.
The playground and pavilions are open, but the lodge will not be accessed yet, Sexton said. The lodge is a venue available for rent for events, such as parties. However, it will be closed because of social distancing and sanitation protocols.
The park reopened at 50 percent capacity, the release said. Capacity will be monitored by parking spaces, Maurer said. While there are 128 parking spots at the park, only 64 spots will be opened. The park entrance fee is $5 per car.
Since the park closed two months ago, Maurer said, the park lost 12 weeks of revenue and one of the busiest times of the year: Memorial Day weekend.
“Public safety is our priority and far outweighs any financial gains or losses,” he said.
Maurer said he anticipates the influx of residents at the park will be a waiting game.
“We feel the park will have a slow return of visitors at first, but will quickly become a popular and safe destination for people to start enjoying their summer,” Maurer said.