Public Lands Managers Ask: Have Plan A, B Or C Ready To ‘Recreate Responsibly’ This Weekend

Palouse Falls State Park is home to Washington's official state waterfall -- and large crowds in the spring runoff season.
Palouse Falls State Park is home to Washington's official state waterfall -- and large crowds in the spring runoff season. CREDIT: Tom Banse/N3

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If you decide to go for a hike this weekend, be safe and responsible – that’s the message state and federal officials are giving to recreationalists. For other counties trying to reduce the number of COVID-19 cases in their borders, the message is: don’t come here.

You don’t have to stay home, just follow your county’s travel guidelines, says Kittitas County public information officer Kasey Knutson. Sometimes that means you shouldn’t travel, like to Kittitas County.

The county is home to popular camping and hiking spots, but people who live elsewhere could bring the coronavirus with them – just as Kittitas County will learn if its application to move on to phase two of Washington’s reopening plan is accepted on May 26 (the day after Memorial Day).

“We have a lot of folks here who are really feeling like this is a high stakes situation,” Knutson says.

When people travel, they get gas, they might stop for supplies.

“In smaller places, maybe there’s only one gas station, so you have everyone that’s potentially trickling outside of the county into that area using one facility – those are sort of the typical tourist stops – because most of our small businesses continue to be closed because we’re not in phase two,” Knutson says.

So, if you decide to stretch your legs this long weekend, she says head to a trail or forest closer to home.

Most state public lands day-use areas are open. No camping is allowed at this time.

On those trails, state officials are asking that you take precautions: stay six feet away from people, wear masks if you can’t meet that guideline, bring hand sanitizer, water and soap. You should also pack out what you pack in.

New Normal

“What we’ve been talking about as an outdoor community is that the ‘new normal’ or the new common courtesy is to have some kind of a face covering with you to make sure that you can cover your nose and mouth when you’re around other folks,” DNR spokesperson Paige DeChambeau says.

It might not be a bad idea to also carry a bell or something that makes a bit of noise, DeChambeau said – that is, after wildlife haven’t seen as many people on trails for a few months.

The new entrance sign telegraphs the state-tribal partnership to manage the new state park. CREDIT: WA STATE PARKS

Most state parks in Washington opened earlier in May, with some in popular areas like the Columbia Gorge at Pacific Coast staying closed to prevent overcrowding. CREDIT: Washington State Parks

DNR is teaming up with 50 outdoor recreation groups and businesses to get out the word, starting in Washington and growing to a nationwide campaign.

“It’s making sure that people know what they should be doing. If people are doing the right thing, we can guarantee to keep the lands open. Whereas, if we see a lot of unmasked folks or people without face coverings in high concentrations, that will give us pause on whether or not to keep certain places open,” DeChambeau says.

In the weekend after state lands re-opened, many people gathered at parks such as Palouse Falls. It was the same reasoning Washington officials closed down parks in March.

Washington DNR and the Department of Fish and Wildlife say they’ll have officers on hand this weekend to educate people and help them abide by health and safety guidelines.

WDFW also issued a public service announcement, asking people to stay close to home and mind health guidelines, especially in areas where fishing spots usually are shoulder-to-shoulder.

“People are cooped up. They’re ready to get