All state lands closed to the public, USFS trails open
Closed public lands
- Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) wildlife areas, water-access areas and boat launches: Closed through at least April 7.
- Pearrygin Lake State Park (and all state parks): Closed through at least April
- Washington State campgrounds: Closed through April 30.
- Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) lands and forests: Closed through at least April 8.
- Fishing: Closed through at least April 8.
- Hunting: Seasons already underway are still open, but people are discouraged from driving to get there.
- Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest: Campgrounds, trailheads and developed recreation sites are closed until further notice. Trails, dispersed camping and the national forest are open, but people must maintain at least 6 feet of social distancing.
- North Cascades National Park: Campgrounds and boat launches (generally inaccessible anyway because of snow) are closed.
Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order allows people to be outdoors to walk, bike or garden, but people should do these activities close to home. As WDFW put it, “General rule of thumb: If you have to drive, it’s too far.”
With spring flowers emerging, trails melting out, and virtually all activities canceled, people cooped up at home are tempted by the millions of acres of public lands around the Methow Valley.
But Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order last week closed all state land to ensure social distancing. Pearrygin Lake State Park, Methow wildlife areas, campgrounds, boat launches, and Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) lands and forests are all closed to the public.
In addition, all fishing is closed until at least April 8. Hunting seasons currently underway are not affected, but the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) advises people not to travel to hunt.
“It’s pretty clear — they’re shut down, by order of the governor. So, there’s no discussion,” WDFW Sergeant Dan Christensen said. Inslee’s order is in effect until at least April 7, and some areas are closed even longer.
Christensen understands people are frustrated and said many people who say they fish alone believe the rules don’t apply to them. “There are unintended consequences where a lone sport or activity isn’t so alone,” he said. A boat launch could attract 15 or 20 people, all fishing “alone,” he said.
“You pick up your friend, get gas for the boat, stop at the store for snacks, buy bait, stop at the grocery store — this is how a fishing trip goes. I’ve done it many, many times,” WDFW Officer Jason Day said. “The governor stopped all nonessential use of public space.”
Although his directive instructed people to stay home, Inslee called outdoor activities like walking, biking and gardening essential for physical and mental health. “But you’re not supposed to travel all across the county to do it,” Day said.
Day acknowledged that the land closures, which were imposed over several days last week, may have been confusing. First state parks closed, then camping and access to WDFW lands, then DNR lands, and then fishing. But the result is clear – all state lands are off-limits, he said.
Restrictions for the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest are different. The U.S. Forest Service has closed developed recreational sites at all national forests in Washington and Oregon, according to Chris Bentley, acting public information officer for the Okanogan-Wenatchee. Trailheads, campgrounds and restrooms are closed indefinitely. But the forest and trails are open.
WDFW officers had just one day to post “Closed” signs at wildlife areas in the Methow – along Bear Creek Road, Elbow Coulee Road and the Golden Doe on the Twisp-Carlton Road, to name a few, Day said.
County roads and Forest Service roads that run through state land are open, and people are free to walk or bike on the roads, provided they keep at least 6 feet apart.
On Saturday (March 28), Day headed out to the Riser Lake/Lewis Butte trailhead on Gunn Ranch Road to educate people about the closure. “The trailhead is very well posted and you have to squeeze between two signs to go on the trail,” Day said. The parking lot for Riser Lake is gated.
But some 30 to 40 vehicles arrived while Day was sitting there. “A whole lot of people saw me and turned around without looking at the signs,” he said.
At another popular spot, the WDFW shooting range near Pearrygin Lake, someone had opened the gate and torn down closure signs, Day said.
At Pearrygin Lake State Park, all gates and facilities are closed and locked, Rick Lewis, manager of the Okanogan Highlands Park Management Area, said. If people are walking through the park, they can expect to be contacted by a park ranger, who will explain social distancing and the governor’s directive, he said. “The whole purpose of this thing is to prevent social gathering,” Lewis said.
In the national forest, “trails are still open — trailheads are the concern. We’re seeing a lot of crowding,” Bentley said. So, if you can get to a Forest Service trail without using the trailhead — and without blocking a road or a gate — that’s acceptable, he said. But people still need to be well spaced when walking on a trail and shouldn’t travel to get there.
Being out in the wilderness may be safer than being elsewhere, but lots of people also think so, the Forest Service said in its announcement of the closures. When everyone heads to their favorite recreation area, they end up sharing facilities and passing on the trail, they said.
All public lands officials pointed to a potentially disastrous cascade of events that could tax other limited resources. “We don’t have a depth of doctors and nurses in this area,” Christensen said.
Day imagined a person who sprains an ankle or has a bike wreck on the Lewis Butte trail. EMTs have to hike up to reach that person, when Aero Methow Rescue Service needs to be available to respond to emergencies and medical supplies are already scarce, he said.
Groups like the Outdoor Alliance are encouraging people to avoid potentially dangerous activities because they could strain search-and-rescue and emergency crews, Bentley said. “If you get lost or hurt doing risky recreation, it pulls resources away from COVID-19 efforts, which we really need to focus on right now,” he said.
“We expect everyone out there to comply with this order voluntarily…. But make no mistake, this order is enforceable by law,” Inslee said.
Going onto closed state lands is a civil infraction that carries a $150 fine. Violating the governor’s directive is a gross misdemeanor, Day said.
“We’re doing our best to educate people. We’re not seeking conflict or writing tickets. But it won’t always be that way if people continue to break the law,” Day said.