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Some Oregon State Parks Reopen For Limited Day Use

Lake Billy Chinook is pictured June 2, 2012, near Culver, Ore.
Lake Billy Chinook is pictured June 2, 2012, near Culver, Ore.

Some Oregon recreational areas and state parks have reopened for limited day use, as the state slowly eases restrictions to curb spread of the coronavirus.

Gov. Kate Brown announced the limited opening of some state parks, outdoor recreation facilities and natural areas throughout Oregon starting Tuesday, May 5.

Camping opportunities will also become available as federal, state, local and private providers are able to prepare their facilities for visitors, according to Brown’s office. Although ski season is over, ski resorts will also be able to resume activities soon under a forthcoming executive order.

“Enjoying Oregon’s beauty and bounty is one of our state's time-honored traditions,” Brown said in a press release. “As we begin to slowly open up recreation sites, state parks, and ski areas opportunities, it is critical we ensure the health and safety of staff, volunteers, and the public. And that begins with each of us taking personal responsibility to be good stewards of our parks, and each other.”

Not all outdoor recreation areas closed under the stay-at-home order Brown issued in March. But as concerns over public health and safety grew due to overcrowding and lack of social distancing, state and federal agencies decided to close parks and recreational areas to align with Brown’s executive order.

Now, the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department will reopen eight inland state parks with limited daytime services starting May 5. It had closed access to state parks on March 23 to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus and help flatten the curve.

The parks reopening are:

Tryon Creek in Portland

Willamette Mission north of Keizer

Mongold boat ramp at Detroit Lake

State Capitol Park in Salem

The Cove Palisades boat ramp at Lake Billy Chinook near Culver

Prineville Reservoir boat ramp near Prineville

Joseph Stewart boat ramp on Lost Creek Lake near Shady Cove

Pilot Butte in Bend. Pilot Butte will allow pedestrians but will continue to be closed to vehicles.

OPRD’s spokesman Chris Havel said the decision to gradually reopen some state parks, in part, came down to whether nearby communities were ready for park visitors in their midst.

“We don’t want to welcome people back into a community that’s not ready for it,” Havel said. “… What happened in March, yeah, we don’t want to see that happen again because that will lead to closures.”

The parks that are being opened also needed to be prepared — which meant enough personal protective equipment for workers and enough cleaning supplies to keep facilities sanitized, Havel said.

These parks also met the department’s criteria for social distancing, as they were less likely to be overrun with visitors.

The department asked that people choose nearby state parks and avoid visiting those requiring long trips. Havel said staying local makes the decision to go home and come back easier as opposed to just joining large crowds.

Congested areas like the coast and the Columbia River Gorge may be the last areas to reopen because of their popularity and the importance of community readiness for the large crowds of people.

“Nobody really knows what ready looks like yet for that spot. How do you manage it? ... How do we make sure that communities are ready? How do we get the best health result? And how do we prepare staff for large numbers? We’re still working on that,” Havel said.

The state parks department will approach additional reopenings in phases. More parks may reopen next week with limited day use based on the readiness of surrounding communities to welcome visitors, and the parks' preparedness for staff, supplies and equipment. Another factor will be public behavior during these first weeks with some parks reopening.

“We’re trying to move forward to offer more access to more parks but how we do it and the speed in which we do it, yes, these parks will tell us how successfully we can do that," Havel said. "... To a very large degree, our success at offering limited access to parks is dictated by people cooperating.”

Copyright 2020 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Monica Samayoa is a reporter with OPB’s Science & Environment unit. Before OPB, Monica was an on-call general assignment reporter at KQED in San Francisco. She also helped produce The California Report and KQED Newsroom. Monica holds a bachelor's degree in Broadcast and Electronic Communication Arts from San Francisco State University.