Restrictions on gatherings, camping still in place
Washington state’s public lands begin to re-open this week, after Gov. Jay Inslee announced a partial re-opening of outdoor recreation venues.
Re-openings began on Tuesday (May 5) and include state parks, public lands managed by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), hunting and fishing seasons, and golf courses.
The lifting of closures comes with the caveat of maintaining appropriate safety precautions – specifically keeping 6 feet of distance between others and not gathering in groups larger than five. Bans on public gatherings, events, team sports and camping are still in effect.
Methow Valley land management officials are expecting a spike in the number of users.
“Hopefully, people will be responsible. We’ve had really good compliance here compared to other places in the state,” said Sgt. Dan Christenson, Okanogan County supervisor for WDFW. “The compliance has been absolutely phenomenal by our locals.”
Christenson, who has the authority to issue “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” violation tickets, which can result in a $5,000 fine, noted that the majority of encounters he’s had with violators have been non-Okanogan residents. “Nine out of 10 have a ZIP code not from Okanogan county. People from a long-ways away are coming here to recreate,” said Christenson. As for the re-opening, “We’ll have more than we have now, but I don’t think we’ll have a rush. I’m just glad that people can begin to get out.”
“While we’re open for day use, the virus is still a pretty active issue, so we are really encouraging people to practice their social distancing.
Our job will be to try and remind people that they need to keep their distance, and not to have big gatherings of groups.”
Rick Lewis, head ranger, Pearrygin Lake State Park
“We’ve been working pretty methodically over the last couple of weeks” to be ready for openings said Rick Lewis, head ranger at Pearrygin Lake State Park near Winthrop.
Pearrygin Lake State Park’s day-use area will be operating under normal park hours, with the opening of the east campground (but no camping allowed), boat launch and the Lake Creek trailhead. Facilities will be limited, with one vault toilet and a partial opening of the campground bathrooms. Staff are conducting more-intense cleanings, three times a day at the park’s facilities.
“We should have most of our summer staff on by Monday (May 4), and they’ll be working hard Monday and Tuesday to make sure everything is ready,” said Lewis, who typically would have had the park open by the first of April. “Normally, on opening weekend of fishing, we have a lot of people … but the [North Cascades Highway] pass isn’t open and there’s no camping so, without a place for them to stay overnight, it’s hard to imagine we’ll be overrun.”
Lewis imagines there will be a good turnout from locals, noting “While we’re open for day use, the virus is still a pretty active issue, so we are really encouraging people to practice their social distancing.”
“Our job will be to try and remind people that they need to keep their distance, and not to have big gatherings of groups,” said Lewis. “If our staff seem a little aloof, [it’s because] they are instructed not to engage the public in prolonged conversation, and when they do engage the public they will be social distancing and wearing a mask.”
“Let’s try and keep the group clusters down, catch some fish, and go for a hike,” said Lewis. “Hopefully, we can keep doing that, and expand our services as we get in to the summer.”
DNR land will also be re-opening day use this week.
“The people of Washington have made great sacrifices as we fight to slow the spread of COVID-19,” said Washington State Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, in a press-release on April 27. “Reconnecting people with nature is the first step of a long journey back to normalcy.”
“Reopening our public lands however, does not mean we can stop being vigilant in the fight against this virus,” continued Franz. “We all need to make sure we continue to do as much as we can to keep our families, our communities and our first responders healthy.”
And, while Washington state works to re-open public lands, federal land managers are still working to create a complete plan for re-opening.
“We do not have a specific timeline yet for opening trailheads or developed recreation sites, but are working to align with state policies and will continue to work to align our operations with the states of Oregon and Washington,” wrote Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest Public Affairs Specialist Robin DeMario, in an email to the Methow Valley News.
“We are evaluating the possibility of opening National Forest trailheads and developed recreation areas to day use; where responsible recreation is feasible, where we can do so safely, and where it aligns with local policies,” continued DeMario, who added, “General forest areas on most National Forest lands are currently open to hunting, fishing and trail use where it is feasible to access those trails without crowding at trailheads, or day use facilities.”
However, certain day-use areas on U.S. Forest Service land, such as the Fun Rock Climbing Area in Mazama, will remain closed, according to an order from Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest Supervisor Kristin Bail.
On the greens
Golf courses are getting back into the swing of things as well, with both Bear Creek Golf Course near Winthrop and Gamble Sands in Brewster opening this week.
The governor’s office released a 24-point requirement sheet for golf courses, which includes guidelines for the operations on golf courses, golf course facilities, and employee safety and health.
“It’s definitely starting to fill up, but it’s not a flood,” said Willa Hilton, Bear Creek’s pro shop attendant.
Bear Creek typically opens the first week of April, according to Hilton, who’s happy to have the course open again.
“We definitely missed it, but we got a lot of projects done, and spruced up the course a bit [during the closure],” said Hilton. “We hope everybody wants to come get outside”
“We have a pretty full tee-sheet,” said Gamble Sands’ head golf pro, Mathew Baum. “It’s a little below average for a Tuesday, [but] we spaced our tee times out further, which limits the amount of people you can have go out. So we are busy for what we have.”
Baum noted that some of the re-opening restrictions limit how many players can make it onto the course in a day. Groups of four are only allowed if all four are from the same household, otherwise groups are limited to two.