By Oliver Lazenby
Washingtonians will soon have much more access to public lands, governor Jay Inslee announced during a televised April 27 announcement to the public.
Starting Tuesday, May 5, most state parks and public lands managed by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife will re-open, along with fishing, hunting and golf. Some national parks and forests are expected to open at about the same time. Most land managers closed public lands in March, after the governor issued a stay-at-home order effective March 23 to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.
“This will open up widespread outdoor recreation, assuming health sand safety guidelines continue to be used by Washingtonians,” Inslee said. “It’s a decision that follows that data, because that is what we need to lead in these efforts.”
Inslee said that social distancing restrictions will still apply while playing outside – people should not ride in cars to trailheads with people not in their household, for example, and if trailheads or parks are busy, people should go elsewhere.
“Recreate responsibly,” said commissioner of public lands Hilary Franz, who joined Inslee in the televised update. “Before you leave make sure you prepare, that you have hand sanitizer, water, a mask, that you make sure when you arrive you avoid those crowds and you definitely utilize social distancing rules.”
The governor encouraged other steps toward stopping the virus’ spread while recreating, including staying local, giving other hikers at least six feet when passing on the trail, and sticking to day trips. Both primitive camping and developed campgrounds will remain closed, he said. Golfers should play only in twosomes, unless a larger group all lives in the same house.
Most state parks will open on May 5, Washington State Parks director Don Hoch said, but some would need extra time to coordinate re-opening with local communities.
The governor’s office is working with the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service on opening some federal lands at about the same time, said Jon Synder, the governor’s policy advisor on outdoor recreation and economic development. “Please call ahead and make sure the place you want to go is open and expect that some of our national partners will not have all their places open yet.”
Inslee has not extended his stay-at-home order beyond May 4. Last week Inslee took a step toward re-opening the state by announcing that construction projects already underway could restart, provided that they could be done safely with adequate physical distancing.
Inslee did not announce what other restrictions, if any, would be lifted after May 4, but said more would be announced about next steps of the state’s plan in a few days.