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Lompoc's La Purisima Mission offers outdoor getaway for coronavirus-weary residents
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Lompoc's La Purisima Mission offers outdoor getaway for coronavirus-weary residents

From the April 10 recap: Lompoc news you may have missed this week series

If things had gone according to plan, Delaney Harding would have been more than 600 miles away from her hometown of Lompoc on Friday and working toward finishing her sophomore year at Utah Valley University.

Like many aspects of normal American life, however, those plans were wrecked by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

So rather than tackling classwork Friday morning, Delaney was instead with her mother, Debbie Harding, enjoying a relaxing walk around La Purisima Mission State Historic Park, where they spent about an hour catching up with each other and the mission’s resident animals.

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“It’s nice to get fresh air,” Delaney Harding said as she and her mom headed back to their vehicle after a brief respite from coronavirus news. “I’m in a better mood than I was this morning.”

The Hardings aren’t the only locals who have turned to La Purisima Mission and its nearly 2,000-acre park for relief during the global health crisis.

Although vehicular access to the park has been temporarily closed off, the site remains open for people who wish to walk, hike or bike on the park’s 25 miles of trails.

On Friday, dozens of people were apparently taking advantage of the opportunity, evidenced by long rows of cars that lined both sides of Mission Gate Road in front of the park's entrance.

“We just needed to get out of the house,” said Debbie Harding, who lives in Vandenberg Village.

Although the trails are open, state park officials stress that people should continue following the safety recommendations of public health officials. That includes practicing social distancing by staying at least 6 feet away from other visitors.

“If the roadways are full of vehicles, and physical distancing is not possible, please do not stop — find another location to hike,” said Dena Bellman, a district planning chief with California State Parks Department.

Along with the closed-off parking lot, other measures have been implemented in an effort to keep the park safe.

Among those: The visitor’s center and historic buildings have all been closed, and all campgrounds throughout the State Parks system have been shut down.

Further, Bellman said, the parks system, which has been deemed “essential” by the state, is operating within guidelines recommended by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While day-use restrooms remain open at the mission, officials advise visitors to bring their own soap for hand-washing and alcohol-based hand sanitizers for when water is not available.

Debbie Harding said she was grateful the park was still available to the public, particularly as most public places have either closed or severely cut back operations in an effort to limit the coronavirus outbreak.

“This is something you can do without being too close to people,” she said of walking around the mission. “It’s nice just to get out in nature and kind of be at peace and enjoy the day.”

Delaney Harding, who was unsure when she would be able to physically return to college in Utah, said the trip to La Purisima Mission helped with her mental state.

Also helpful, she said, has been changing her perspective to avoid thinking too much about the long-term future.

“My advice for anyone who is struggling with everything that’s going on is to focus on the next 15 minutes, because that’s what keeping me sane,” she said.

Bellman said she is hopeful that mission visitors will follow the rules and keep the park open and safe.

“State Parks is committed to providing opportunities for the public to get outside, have healthy experiences and minimize stress,” she said. “However, people need to heed the precautions, or we will be forced to close these outdoor areas.”

Coronavirus Series: Local impact and reaction to COVID-19 on the Central Coast

We are working hard to get answers about the impact and reaction to the coronavirus in Santa Barbara County, this is a collection of those stories. Do you have a question about coronavirus in Santa Barbara County? The Santa Maria Times news staff will work to answer your questions. Post them to our Facebook page, or email MCooley@SantaMariaTimes.com.  You can support the work of local journalists working hard in your hometown by signing up for a News+ Membership online

Willis Jacobson covers the city of Lompoc for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @WJacobsonLR.

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Willis Jacobson covers news and other issues, primarily those that affect the Lompoc Valley and Vandenberg Air Force Base for the Lompoc Record. He is a graduate of The University of Florida's College of Journalism and Communications.

Related to this story

Principal Paul Bommersbach began work late last week on a mural on the southern wall of the Lompoc High gym that includes the names of the 360 members of this year’s senior class, as well as a couple messages of support for the class. That move is in addition to a large banner that the school has begun publicly displaying around the city to congratulate the class on its accomplishments, despite what turned out to be an abbreviated final year.

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