Local outdoor recreation facilities close in response to COVID-19

Camas, Washougal shut down playgrounds, Skamania County closes popular hiking trails as governor’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order sets in

Playgrounds, sports fields and even some popular hiking trails in the area are closing in response to Washington Governor Jay Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order, designed to prevent the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus that causes a deadly respiratory disease known as COVID-19. 

Since being discovered in December 2019, COVID-19 has infected more than 463,000 people worldwide and killed more than 20,000 people, including five Clark County residents.

The following details closures in Camas, Washougal, Clark and Skamania counties and other areas of Southwest Washington.

Camas closures

The city of Camas closed all parks facilities effective immediately and until further notice. The closure applies to play structures, sports fields, sports courts, picnic shelters and restrooms. Trails, open grass areas and greenspaces remain open, though patrons are urged to maintain social distancing, limit group interaction and adhere to public health recommendations at all times. 

“I’m asking all Camas residents and those who visit our parks to please refrain from coming out to use the facilities at this time,” Camas Mayor Barry McDonnell stated in the city’s press release about the parks facility closures. “As a parent of four kids, I understand that you’re looking for things to do, but I’m asking you to help us stop this virus.”  

The city’s leaders have asked people to voluntarily comply with the closures and to avoid calling 911 to report violations. 

“We recognize that time outdoors has many benefits, both mental and physical, and that our parks and open space provide a critical support to our community during this difficult time,” Camas Parks and Recreation Manager Jerry Acheson stated in the press release. “Our parks and trails are still open for activities where social distancing can be maintained, such as walking, jogging, cycling and nature viewing. Please enjoy these activities alone or with your family, but do not congregate and be sure to follow social distancing guidelines.” 

City staff will continue to maintain Camas’ parks during the closure, and will follow required social-distancing and health standards to avoid catching or spreading COVID-19. 

The city’s parks and recreation department had already canceled all programs, special events and facility rentals through April. In mid-March, the city’s library, city hall and other municipal buildings closed to the public. For a full list of city closures in Camas and other information related to the virus, visit cityofcamas.us/ourcommunity/covid-19. To access city services online, visit cityofcamas.us, call 360-834-6864 or use the city’s “CamasConnect” app. 

Washougal closures

All city of Washougal playgrounds, sports courts/fields and picnic shelters also have closed through at least April 30.  

The city plans to stay in contact with Clark County Public Health to evaluate its options beyond the April 30 timeline.

City leaders encourage residents to continue to exercise and spend time outside during the closures and say all parks, trails and open spaces will be open as long as people maintain social distancing of at least six feet between people from different households.  

Park restrooms remain closed. 

Steamboat Landing is open, but visitors must practice appropriate social distancing.

The Port of Camas-Washougal has closed the natural play area at Washougal Riverfront Park due to the spread of COVID-19.

The closure also applies to play structures, picnic shelters and restrooms at the park.

“Trails, open grass areas and greenspaces will remain open, though patrons are urged to maintain social distancing, limit group interaction and adhere to public health recommendations at all times,” a news release issued by the Port states.“We understand that spending time outdoors has many benefits, so our parks and trails are still open for activities where social distancing can be maintained, such as walking, jogging, cycling and nature viewing.”

Port property and parks will continue to be maintained during the closure, but to a lesser extent than usual due to reduced staffing levels enacted to meet Center of Disease Control recommendations for protecting citizens and employees, according to the news release.

For information on the status of Clark County parks within Camas and Washougal, visit clark.wa.gov/covid19.

For information about the city of Washougal’s response to COVID-19, visit cityofwashougal.us.

Skamania County closures

Skamania County Deputy Health Director Steven Krager has closed recreational hiking in Skamania County effective immediately and until further notice. 

“Skamania County is a small rural community with relatively little infrastructure available to handle large numbers of COVID-19 infections,” Krager stated in an order dated March 23. “Unnecessary travel from larger metropolitan areas for the purposes of recreational hiking in the Skamania County Gorge increases the likelihood of close social interaction both in the parking areas of trailheads, on crowded trails themselves, and during other incidental social interactions resulting from such travel.” 

Krager stated that local Skamania County businesses such as gas stations and grocery stores were “ill-equipped to handle the volume of interactions while maintaining recommended social distancing.” 

Skamania County Undersheriff Pat Bond later sent out a press release responding to the county order and said the trail closures were “in direct response to the influx of non-residents to our county, in a complete disregard for social distancing and (in response to the governor’s) Stay Home, Stay Safe proclamation.”

“The warm weather brought an unusually large amount of vehicular and pedestrian traffic to all recreational sites within the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic area and Gifford Pinchot National Forest,” Bond stated in the press release. “In a normal setting, Skamania County welcomes visitors to enjoy our natural beauty and many recreational opportunities, however this is not a normal time with the COVID-19 pandemic.” 

Bond said the Sheriff’s Office would attempt to educate violators about the order, but noted that disobeying the order “can be construed as a crime and can be handled as such if an extreme occurrence does happen.” 

Clark County closures

The Clark County Council voted unanimously on March 24 to close all playgrounds in Clark County parks effective immediately. The decision was made based on the governor’s executive order and is supported by Clark County Public Health.

The county’s parks grounds and maintenance staff have started to post closure signs at all Clark County parks. Some public restrooms will remain open, but park users should be prepared to not have access to a restroom or hand-washing facilities.

“We are grateful for the council’s commitment to keeping our parks and green spaces open,” Clark County Public Works Director Ahmad Qayoumi stated in a press release. “But closing down the playground structures is an important step in preventing the spread of COVID-19.”

“We cannot stress enough how important it is to follow the Governor’s ‘Stay Home, Stay Healthy’ order,” Parks and Lands Division Manager Galina Burley stated in the release. “While the parks remain open to those walking, rolling, or strolling, activities which do not involve close contact and where six feet of social distancing can be achieved, we urge all park visitors to be mindful and prepared.”

Other Southwest Washington closures

Southwest Washington’s state parks have also been closed. On Tuesday, March 24, the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission (WSPRC) and the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) announced the temporary closure of all state-managed parks, wildlife areas and water access areas for at least two weeks.

Entrance gates and facilities will be closed, on-site public services will be suspended and essential staff will be present to preserve and protect resources, according to a news release issued by WSPRC. Camping and other overnight accommodations on state-managed recreation lands will remain closed through Thursday, April 30.

“State land officials and staff appreciate the public’s understanding and cooperation in this unprecedented time,” the news release states.

For more information about state parks and WDFW operations, visit parks.state.wa.us/COVID19 or wdfw.wa.gov/about/covid-19-updates.

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