Washingtonians longing to hike at a state park, fish the Columbia River or go golfing again are in luck.
As of Tuesday, May 5, several outdoor recreation sites in Washington, including state parks, state public lands managed by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) areas, as well as fishing, hunting and limited golfing, will reopen to the public.
Washington Governor Jay Inslee announced the partial reopenings yesterday at a press conference with DNR Commissioner Hilary Franz, WDFW Director Kelly Susewind and Washington State Parks and Recreation Commissioner Don Hoch.
Inslee issued a “stay at home” order in March to help stem the spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 and announced the closure of state parks and other outdoor recreation areas less than two weeks later.
“When I rolled out, ‘Stay Home, Stay Healthy’ over a month ago, difficult decisions were made to close state parks and public lands, golf facilities, and delaying hunting and fishing seasons. This was necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19, reduce travel and ultimately, save lives,” Inslee said Monday.
“Outdoor recreation is one of the best things we can do to promote physical, mental and emotional well-being for Washingtonians during a time of great stress and isolation,” he added.
The governor said the reopenings do have a few caveats.
“Recreate locally to the extent possible,” Inslee said. “Do not make overnight trips to recreate … avoid crowds … use face coverings.”
The governor stressed that camping, team sports and public gatherings are not resuming on May 5.
According to a WDFW press release, all freshwater fisheries will open under standard regulations May 5. Halibut, shrimp and intertidal shellfish harvesting remain closed statewide. Coastal saltwater fishing and shellfish harvesting in marine areas 1-4, including coastal clam digs, will also remain closed in consultation with local health departments, who continue to be concerned regarding the potential health impact to their communities from outside visitors.
Local hunting for turkey and spring bear will open on May 5, and the spring bear season will be extended until June 30.
Under the new golfing rules, players must play in twosomes unless playing with members of their own household.
“You can only play golf with one person from outside your household,” Inslee said. “And you can’t be traveling in an automobile … with a person outside your household. That is just too dangerous at the moment.”
Inslee said he is confident that Washingtonians who “love the outdoors as much as (he does) will do a good job maintaining social distance even when outside.”
Franz, the DNR commissioner, said state leaders realized Washington residents went to public lands to help their physical, mental and emotional well-being.
“I truly believe that connecting people with nature is the first step to getting ‘back to normalcy,” Franz said, “but we have to make sure we are vigilant in the fight against this virus … make sure to avoid those crowds, utilize social-distancing rules.”
Franz urged people to bring their own water, hand sanitizer and masks to recreate outdoors, and to avoid areas with large numbers of visitors.
When the “stay at home” order first went into effect in March, Franz said Washington leaders “saw an unprecedented number of people coming out and enjoying our lands.”
Now, with the partial reopenings, Franz said, “we have to make sure we’re being safe.”
Commissioner Hoch said state officials are working with indigenous tribes and local communities to address concerns about the reopening of state and other public lands, and said not every state park would open for day use on May 5.
“We’re trying to determine the best times for reopening them,” Hoch said Monday, adding that state leaders were still trying to figure out how to best avoid crowds from flocking to Washington’s oceanside communities to use the public beaches.
Inslee said the decision to reopen some public lands was made after careful data analysis, some of which showed that hospitalizations from COVID-19 in Washington state are declining.
Other data points, however, show that the state could be susceptible to another surge in COVID-19 illnesses and deaths if Inslee lifts the “stay at home” measures too quickly.
“We are a long ways from the end of this virus,” Inslee told reporters Monday. “We will have to maintain plenty of restrictions after May 4.”
He added that state leaders have eased restrictions on ongoing construction and are now letting go of tight controls on state parks and other outdoor recreation, but said a “return to normal” was still in the future.
“We will continue to turn that dial, to open up our community,” Inslee said.
How fast that “dial” turns, however, depends on the dozens of data points he and other state officials turn to daily and sometimes hourly, the governor added.
“We’re looking very carefully (at the data),” Inslee said Monday. “To turn this off like a light switch is too dangerous.”
In order to consider easing more “stay at home” restrictions, Inslee said the state needs to have more COVID-19 testing in place and the ability to contact trace when positive tests do turn up.
“We are substantially closer, but are (still) woefully short on test kits,” Inslee told reporters Monday. “The federal government has not provided adequate test kits. We would like about four times the number we have today as soon as possible.”
The governor said he was told during a call with President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence that the supply of test kits and testing materials is expected to “increase dramatically in the next few weeks,” and added that he hopes this is correct.
The state is in the process of training National Guard members and state health workers to be a part of the “small army” of 1,500 contact-tracers Washington will need to begin its reopening process, Inslee said.
“We have to have tracing capabilities, to contact people and make sure they and their families are isolated (after someone tests positive for COVID-19),” he said.
Regarding the reopening of day use at state parks and other public lands, the governor said he wouldn’t hesitate to reconsider his actions if people do not abide by physical-distancing guidelines.
“We may have to modify these measures again,” Inslee said. “It will depend on the data and compliance rates.”
“As I’ve said before, this virus and its impacts on all of us is extremely challenging,” he added. “But this is not the time to give up on the strategies that we know are giving us results and saving lives in the state of Washington.”
There are several state parks in Southwest Washington, including Beacon Rock State Park, Battle Ground Lake, Reed Island and Paradise Point. DNR lands include Dougan Falls, located about 16 miles up the Washougal River Road; Table Mountain Natural Resources Conservation Area on the Pacific Crest Trail near Bonneville Dam; and Cold Creek, a day-use and campground area located 16 miles north of Camas, which provides access to the 9-mile Bells Mountain Trail in the Yacolt Burn State Forest.
For more information on Inslee’s April 27 announcement regarding outdoor recreation sites, visit governor.wa.gov/news-media/inslee-announces-easing-outdoor-restrictions.