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Raquel Martinez works out at El Cariso Park in Sylmar.

The music blasts from a boombox as Raquel Martinez sweats while she lifts weights in each hand, does lunges and stretches during a daily exercise routine that takes her two hours.

Then she runs four miles around Los Angeles county’s El Cariso Park in Sylmar.

Prior to the coronavirus-related lockdowns, Martinez did most of her workout routine inside a gym. But since the business closed in March, this green space along Hubbard Street — next to Los Angeles Mission College — has become her favorite place to exercise.

Not all gyms are closed, obviously; at least three of them in the City of San Fernando have remained opened. But others have shut their doors.

“I wasn’t going to stay asleep inside my house,” said Martinez, on staying fit amid the pandemic.

As she perspires profusely, she notes that exercising outdoors has actually been better for her.

“I’ve lost about 10 pounds and in the gym I couldn’t,” she says proudly. “I think it’s healthier to exercise outdoors.”

With malls, movie theaters and other entertainment sites closed, many have found in parks the ideal place to shake off the boredom, walk, run, or just sit under the sun. And huge, green areas like this park are the right place to do all that with enough social distancing.

Funds For Improvements

The county Department of Parks and Recreation is preparing to launch a $17 million improvement program thanks to state funding provided by Proposition 68, a voter-approved measure in 2018 that grants millions for those purposes in areas of high need.

“Re:Play,” as the department has named the series of projects, will make improvements to 30 county parks, benefiting more than a million residents. The improvements can include updates to sports equipment, picnic areas, bathrooms and lighting systems, depending on the needs in each location.

“I am incredibly excited to announce ‘Re:Play,’ thanks to the support of California state parks and the Proposition 68 grant program, as a way to renew, refresh, restore, replace, and revitalize play areas at county parks specifically located in vulnerable communities,” said Department of Parks and Recreation Director Norma E. Garcia.

“This funding will allow LA county to invest in play spaces for youth, and will bring to life our mission to serve as stewards of parklands, build healthy and resilient communities and advance social equity and cohesion. As the COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us, parks are vital to the emotional, social and physical wellness and vitality of our communities.”


County officials note that in places where people don’t have a backyard, parks are the courtyards of entire communities. They’re where people go to play, relax, learn, and relate to others. People also go to parks for help, as some green areas are also used for food distribution drives.

Green Spaces, Better Health

According to the National Recreation and Parks Association, studies show that “green spaces” are associated with fewer medical problems, better blood pressure and cholesterol levels, lower stress, as well as improvements in mental health.

Sports fields are closed and neighborhood team sports are cancelled due to the pandemic. But Javier Trincado agrees on the benefits of coming to El Cariso Park to jog or kick a soccer ball. He used to go to a gym that’s now closed, and had to find other ways and other places to keep working out.

“I was going running to different [locations], looking for a place to stay away from other people and here it’s perfect,” Trincado said.

He adds that he tried to go hiking, but “there it is more difficult to distance yourself (on the narrow pathways) and many people do not wear a mask.”

Being outdoors in the middle of the pandemic is extremely important, Trincado believes.

“Being outside your home helps you stay healthy and clears your mind,” he said.

“Pad in Motion”

To help with this endeavor, the county launched the “PAD in Motion” program where it closes off streets around parks so people can walk and ride safely while maintaining the necessary physical distancing because of the pandemic.

The “open streets” concept allows people, residents and families to use their bikes, scooters, and skateboards, all with the intention of getting some exercise, have some fun and enjoy time outdoors.

The next such program at El Cariso Park takes place Saturday, Aug. 8, from 8 a.m.-11 a.m.

Children and youth ages 18 and under also can head to the park to receive a “grab and go” lunch and snack from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. daily through Aug. 7.