The following is the opinion and analysis of the writer.
I am writing in response to a guest opinion (“We all love Sabino Canyon, but please, stay home”) that Tucson.com published April 9 which argued that Sabino Canyon should be closed to public access because social distancing is now impossible.
But that is a false premise. I know from personal experience that it is possible to maintain social distancing at Sabino Canyon. I’ve been there at least 10 times since the social distancing recommendations have come out, sometimes biking, sometimes hiking on the road or a trail.
In all cases I have been able to stay at least 6 feet away from other people. So, there is no good reason to close Sabino Canyon, though public access can and should be improved.
I think it is appropriate that we review the steps that have been taken by Sabino Canyon’s rangers in response to the social distancing recommendations. They stopped the shuttle from running, which was necessary. They have closed the public restrooms. I am supportive of that measure as well because a ranger told me that they felt it was necessary for the safety of their employees who maintain them.
While I am sure those and other measures taken were all well intended, some of them have missed the mark.
The biggest mistake made was in closing Sabino Canyon’s main parking lot. A ranger told me that closure was intended to prevent people from congregating at the visitor center. But closing that lot is a suboptimal solution to that problem.
A better solution, which would be more helpful to people wanting to maintain social distancing with minimum inconvenience, would be to put the type of temporary 6-foot plastic fencing seen around construction sites around the visitor center itself, and to then reopen the main parking lot.
It is possible to maintain social distancing in an almost fully occupied parking lot. You can and should only park where you can get out of your car and into open space without having to walk within 6 feet of anyone else, which is easily possible if you don’t park next to a car that has people getting into or out of it.
Similarly, when returning to your car, you can and should wait in open space for any people in adjacent cars to depart.
And while the overflow parking lot is still open, there is an issue there as well because the only way to get from that overflow parking lot to the road in Sabino Canyon is along a single hiking path.
And there is foot traffic in both directions as some people are walking into the canyon while others are walking out. It is possible to maintain 6 feet of distancing, even then, but only if one of the parties is willing to step 6 feet off the trail. I am always willing to do that, but not everyone is.
However, the overflow parking lot should not be closed. A better solution is for the rangers to create a second trail from the overflow parking lot to the road and then make the two trails one-way in opposite directions so that people inbound to the canyon are not passing by people who are outbound in close proximity unless one of them steps off the trail.
My estimate is that it would take at most two person-days for rangers to create that second trail.
To the rangers: if I can be of any help to you in scouting out and creating that second trail, please contact me.
Glen Jaquette works in Tucson as an engineer. He has lived near Sabino Canyon for 34 years and enjoys going there regularly.
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