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State park closings causing campers to hit the road

Donald Vascimini gets the word from Park Manager Gabe Medrano that the City of Rocks State Park is closing to camping to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. (Martin Frentzel/For The Journal)

FAYWOOD – It started as a camping closure at New Mexico state parks on March 13, and on March 15, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced all state parks, museums and historic sites would be closed beginning March 16.

The closure is in response to the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the world. Parks are popular places for seniors, a segment of the population for which the coronavirus is particularly dangerous.

Park Manager Gabe Medrano started notifying City of Rocks State Park campers they would have to leave their campsites by 2 p.m. that day.

“Most of the people took it pretty well,” Medrano said, “But some of the campers who had farther to go were not too happy about it.”

Waiting for spring

City of Rocks State Park, north of Deming, was issuing rain checks for unused nights to campers who had paid at the park, but campers who made online reservations through will be contacted by that firm to arrange for refunds.

Donald Vascimini, 74, was one of the campers who had to leave City of Rocks. The southern states have been his winter home since 2015, and Bay City, Michigan, is where he spends summers. When he had to leave City of Rocks, Vascimini had an additional week reserved.

“I was waiting until spring before going back to Michigan,” he said. “Now I guess I will go to my sister’s in Indiana.

“I knew this virus was going to affect me,” Vascimini said, “But I didn’t know how or when. I am fine so far. I don’t see many people here and when I do, I don’t know them, so I don’t hug them.”

Vascimini also said he applied to work on the 2020 federal census but he had not received any response as yet. He wondered what impact COVID-19 would have on that.

Isabella Fearn and Tyler Pastorok are riding across America studying sustainability. After biking approximately 2,200 miles, they camped at Leasburg Dam State Park north of Las Cruces. (Martin Frentzel/For The Journal)

A mobile population

Winter campers come to southwestern New Mexico from many other states and even the Canadian province of Quebec.

One City of Rocks camper who usually lives in Washington state, a vortex of COVID-19 activity, said he would be looking for a campsite in Arizona after leaving New Mexico.

A pair of Leasburg Dam State Park campers are bicycling from Florida to California, documenting sustainability and resilience efforts across their route.

Isabella Fearn and Tyler Pastorok are both 23 years old, an age outside the 60-and-older age group most at risk from the pandemic.

“Nobody wants to get sick,” Fearn said when asked whether they worried about the virus.

To reach Leasburg Dam, the pair had bicycled approximately 2,200 miles. Along their route, they visited Pensacola (Florida) Permaculture, the Mississippi River Trail, and an Earthship Hostel named La Loma Del Chivo in Texas.

They also met “trail angels” full of kindness and generosity, including Madge, a woman who talked to them one morning when they were riding in the rain and then brought them a pizza later that day.

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