San Marcos tubing season returns amid COVID-19

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Photo courtesy of Lions Club Tube Rentals

Tubers relax and float down the San Marcos River during the 2019 tubing season.

Madyson Sanchez, Life and Arts Reporter

Temperatures are rising and local residents are becoming eager to cool down; however, summer in San Marcos is expected to look a little different this year as tube rental shops and tubers alike begin to navigate a tubing season during a global pandemic.

After the City of San Marcos passed an order to close all riverfront parks, many local tubing businesses were forced to postpone grand openings for their summer tubing season and evaluate how they would operate under new sanitation and social distancing guidelines.

Although most local tubing businesses remained closed throughout May, river tubing is expected to make its return as June approaches.

Riverfront parks, including Rio Vista Park and City Park, reopened May 22. Park visitors are advised to follow social distancing guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Visitors may resume utilizing the river for tubing, kayaking, canoeing and swimming.

“We know the community is excited to see our river parks reopen, but we strongly advise park-goers to maintain personal responsibility when it comes to keeping themselves and those around them safe,” Mayor Jane Hughson said in an official statement. “The virus is still in our city and is still very contagious, so large crowds of people in our river parks are highly discouraged.”

Mark Jalufka, Texas State alumnus and general manager of Lions Club Tube Rental, said the tube rental and river shuttle service is eager to reopen June 1 while also ensuring safety precautions are in place to keep tubers safe.

To comply with social distancing guidelines and maintain proper sanitation between guests, Lions Club Tube Rental expects to operate with a smaller capacity of tubers than previous seasons. The tubing service will also implement new procedures to keep guests, employees and park-goers safe.

“On the hour, we’re going to shut everything down and sanitize all public spaces inside and outside of the immediate area of the tube rental and the concessions stand area down the river,” Jalufka said.

Every returned tube rental and shuttle bus will be sanitized before going back into use. Lions Club Tube Rental employees will also wear gloves and a mask during their shift. When an adequate amount of distance is not possible, guests will be separated from employees by plexiglass shields.

The number of outgoing tubers on the river will be limited in accordance with the city ordinance. Tubers are expected to maintain six feet of distance, except for family members. Group departures will be spaced out by a couple of minutes.

Individuals hold a conversation in front of a stack of yellow floating tubes.
A Lions Club Tube Rental employee chats with two guests at the rental office in City Park during the 2019 season. (Photo courtesy of Lions Club Tube Rentals )

To keep the tube service running safely, Jalufka expects to hire additional employees and attain more labor costs than previous seasons.

“So many of these procedures are going to require additional people to run [the service],” Jalufka said. “Our profits will be down, so that means we won’t have as much to give away, unfortunately, and it definitely will impact people.”

While many students left San Marcos after Texas State transitioned to remote courses, remaining students in the community plan to return to parks and the river after they reopen.

Sarah Biggs, special education sophomore, said she’s excited for river tubing and outdoor activities to come back to San Marcos this summer.

“I feel like this is a great opportunity to do something fun in this hard time [of] social distancing,” Biggs said.

Alex Mason, health and fitness management senior, said he feels safe visiting the river after keeping up with national news and deciphering the split in COVID-19 coverage across Texas.

Mason said he thinks reopening the riverfront areas and allowing tubing is a great chance for students who aren’t staying with family to get outside and enjoy themselves.

“There are plenty of people my age living with parents,” Mason said. “I don’t live close to family and just go to work, so it’s nice that [the city] is giving me an opportunity to go do something outside, not to socialize, but to get my mind off [COVID-19].”

After reopening riverfront parks, the City of San Marcos will continue to monitor COVID-19 cases to determine whether removing outdoor restrictions harms local public health.

The University Star’s COVID-19 coverage can be found here.


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