Note: In the two days since this story was written, some state and federal recreational lands have closed. The state Department of Fish & Wildlife and the North Cascades National Park Service Complex closed such facilities as campgrounds, boat ramps, access roads and wildlife areas effective March 25. The Fish & Wildlife closure lasts at least two weeks. The state Department of Natural Resources will close access to all of its lands beginning March 26 and running until at least April 8.
Although most facilities are closed and most staff aren’t present, green spaces from city parks to national public lands remain a resource for those in need of fresh air, exercise or solace during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s good to remember — and well documented in the medical literature — that immersion in nature boosts human immune systems and provides many other health benefits,” North Cascades Institute Executive Director Saul Weisberg wrote in a notice about the nonprofit’s facilities being closed and programs canceled.
The local organization, which works to expose all ages to nature, is encouraging community members to find ways to enjoy the outdoors on their own while practicing social distancing.
“Go outside. Rejoice in the spring flowers and the swallow’s return,” Weisberg wrote.
Skagit County Public Health also says outdoor activities such as walking, running, biking and hiking are encouraged as ways to manage stress brought on by COVID-19.
“We want to encourage, from a social, emotional, well-being standpoint, that people are getting outside,” Skagit County Parks and Recreation Director Brian Adams said. “I think cabin fever is a real thing. ... If we’re stuck in our homes, it’s not the perfect thing for our mental well-being.”
Playing outside is also important for children, but access to public playground equipment is closed in order to prevent families from gathering in close proximity and children from touching the same surfaces.
“We closed our playgrounds last week with just signs and today we are closing them with caution tape,” Adams said. “We’re also closing our picnic shelters. We just don’t have the capacity to get to all these sites (to frequently sanitize).”
Washington state agencies also announced Sunday the closure of campgrounds. Offices and in some cases restrooms are closed at city, county, state and federal public lands to limit person-to-person contact.
All levels of government ask those who choose to spend time outdoors during the pandemic to practice good hygiene and social distancing of at least six feet.
“Social distancing is a practice that can take place within the forest,” Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest Public Affairs Specialist Colton Whitworth said in an email.
The Forest Service and Washington Trails Association recommend choosing less popular destinations. In Skagit County, that means avoiding areas such as Oyster Dome.
Skagit Land Trust Executive Director Molly Doran wrote in a notice to members and volunteers that land trust properties throughout the county are less frequently used public spaces that are accessible for walking and wildlife watching.
“As state and local protocols allow it, you may want take a walk on one of the land trust properties. ... It is easy to give each other more than six feet of space on all of our trails,” Doran wrote.
For those unable to access public lands or uncomfortable about leaving home, the Washington Trails Association recommends taking in fresh air from balconies, backyards or open windows.
If individuals or families choose to go to parks, the association recommends choosing one close to home and trying to visit during less popular hours.
“If we want to continue to have access to parks, it’s important that crowds not gather,” the association wrote in a statement.
Anacortes, Burlington, Mount Vernon and Sedro-Woolley city websites state that local parks remain open.
State Parks including Bay View, Deception Pass, Rasar and Rockport are open for day use, as are state Department of Natural Resources and state Department of Fish & Wildlife properties.
The North Cascades National Park Service Complex and Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest remain accessible as well, but visitor centers and ranger stations are closed.
The National Park Service is waiving entrance fees in order to limit person-to-person contact that would be required to exchange passes and payment.
The Forest Service and other agencies have said search and rescue operations may be limited due to other first responder needs related to COVID-19. That means high-risk activities such as rock climbing and backcountry adventure with increased chances of injury or distress should be avoided, according to a Forest Service statement.