Officials Consider Plans for Reopening Outdoor Recreation Sites

For the last month, access to state parks, beaches, boat ramps, and trailheads across Oregon has been restricted in order to contain the spread of COVID-19. As cases appear to stabilize and talk turns toward “reopening” the state, officials are beginning to consider plans for how and when to once again permit access to these outdoor recreation sites.  

Based upon conversations with land managers across the state, a recent report by Zach Urness of the Salem Statesman Journal suggests that the soonest Oregonians should expect to see a plan in place to reopen recreation sites is the first week of May, and that this push won’t happen all at once. 

Addressing what needs to happen in order for these sites to responsibly reopen, Oregon Parks and Recreation Department spokesman Chris Havel says, “We need three things: park rules that reduce the transmission of coronavirus, staff who are trained and equipped to serve the public safely, and local community support for a limited opening of state parks. 

Havel also suggested that Oregon’s state parks system would reopen for day-use first, followed by camping “when the larger social conditions are right.” 

Speaking to the complex question about how best to reopen the Oregon coast, Warrenton Mayor Henry Balensifer said that “Because the coast is such a vacuum for tourists, recreational openings will have to be incremental and coordinated. I do know many parts of the state are eyeing the coast for how to manage reopening in a tourist-heavy area. It will be tricky for sure.” 

One thing that remains clear is that closures are unlikely to lift until Oregon Gov. Kate Brown alters the “stay home, save lives” executive order.  

When this mandate is revised in a way that allows for Oregon’s state parks and campgrounds to reopen, Havel claims that Oregonians should not expect business as usual.   

“Things will be different,” he said. “Respecting physical distance means some parks will require people to act differently so congestion is kept to a minimum. The last thing we want is for Oregon to backslide on the progress it has made, because that path leads to re-closing parks. Our strong advice after re-opening is going to be: enjoy the state parks closest to your home.” 

By JD Brookbank