While local businesses and restaurants began rolling back hours or closing due to the coronavirus, Chewacla State Park manager Joshua Funderburk saw no sort of slowdown at work.
To the contrary, the state park in Auburn has seen an uptick in visitors.
Fighting cabin fever
Last weekend Chewacla counted 1,178 adults, 201 children and 35 seniors, numbers that do not include the park’s annual pass-holders. The amount of visitors stayed fairly steady Monday as well, as 480 adults, 33 children and five seniors were counted, Funderburk said.
The park’s busy three-day stretch comes during a time in which a trip to a state park is as desirable as ever. With social distancing being incredibly important, parks like Chewacla — which covers 696 acres — offer visitors a chance to get outdoors without being exposed to crowds.
“People are getting cabin fever. With everything else closing, you can still come out here and still be reasonably away from people while still being around them,” Funderburk said. “We’ve had a lot of people visit us, but you don’t see a whole bunch of crowds around one another. Everybody is still able to follow the social distancing and still be able to be outside in nature.
“It feels cleaner. It feels better.”
Not just weekends
“Monday was a bit of a shock,” he said. “It was just about like a Saturday or a Sunday. For a Monday, that’s a good bit of business.”
While questions about so many aspects of life in the state lingered last weekend, Alabama State Parks announced its plans to remain open despite the pandemic.
“As we continue to provide our routine hospitality services to the public, we are coordinating with Public Health agencies and adopting the most current recommendations on preventative measures for avoidance of transmission of the coronavirus,” the park system’s statement read in part. “Our staff are following the recommended precautions such as hand washing, posting prevention flyers, and increasing our cleaning cycles for public common areas.
“The Alabama State Parks system understands the seriousness and fluid nature of the coronavirus pandemic locally, nationally and internationally. We fully support efforts to mitigate the spread of coronavirus and remain fully committed to responding to this situation based on the most up-to-date information available from public health authorities.”
Chewacla’s proximity makes it appealing for locals, as do its amenities.
The park has six cabins for overnight guests, 36 campsites for RVs and campers and nine primitive campsites for tents. It also includes a 26-acre lake with a diving platform, three creeks, a major waterfall and a natural falls, and 30 miles of trails.
Chewacla also is renowned in the Southeast as a mountain biker’s dream given the miles of trails as well as the multiple man-made ramps located throughout the park.
Hard at work
Even though Chewacla benefits from being wide open and covering miles of land, Funderburk explained he and the rest of the park’s employees are taking preventive measures seriously in their day-to-day operations.
“We’re trying to wipe every building down just as often as we can — doorknobs especially. We’ve been cleaning the bathrooms,” said Funderburk, who has worked at Chewacla since 2003. “We’ve got hand sanitizers all over the office. We usually keep that anyway. We’re just being a little bit more attentive to everything. Aside from that, it’s pretty much the normal everyday stuff.”
Bruce Adams, the superintendent at Wind Creek State Park in Alexander City, also emphasized the importance of limiting exposure.
Adams said Wind Creek was fairly busy over the weekend but added that it is no surprise due to local schools being out on spring break. He explained that even though many park employees have been dealing with their kids being out of school, they have been hard at work making sure the park remains sanitary.
“I would encourage people just to do what’s recommended and limit their travel,” Adams said. “(The coronavirus) is an operational strain on us, but we’re doing everything we can to limit the exposure. We encourage the public to do the same thing.”
The state park employees are among those who still are taking a business-as-usual approach with work until told otherwise. In the meantime, they are determined to keep the parks in tiptop shape so they can offer visitors some much-needed peace of mind.
“Every time you turn on the news, look at a paper or listen to the radio, you’re bombarded with the coronavirus,” Funderburk said. “While I understand it is serious, it can be just a little bit stressful.
“It’s just nice to be able to get out and just breathe a little bit.”