With orders to stay home and to practice social distancing, the outdoors is a natural place for Oregonians to turn to clear their minds and relieve some of their cabin fever. But according to the Oregon Parks and Recreation and the City of Klamath Falls Parks Manager John Bellon, many people have not been practicing social distancing while spending time at parks, so stricter measures have been implemented at most parks.
“We’d hoped people would protect themselves, and more importantly, others by limiting their travel just to short trips to places with space. That didn’t happen, and we understand why: people need to get out, and they need a little nature time to make this whole thing bearable,” the Oregon State Parks website describes on a page devoted to the Oregon State Parks’ COVID-19 response.
It adds, “But you’re more important to us than our mission. Our local neighbors near each park — many of them small and rural — need our support and understanding. They and their health care systems (and grocery stores) don’t need a few thousand extra people on their doorstep.”
The 100-mile OC&E trail that runs from Klamath Falls to Sycan Marsh is within the Oregon State Parks system and is thus closed along with many other parks in the state. The Oregon State Parks website details that the entire state parks system will remain closed until at least May 8.
As far as potential penalties for disobeying the closure, the website states, “If we see you in a park, we’ll ask you to leave. If you refuse, we can issue you a citation. If that’s not persuasive enough, we can call law enforcement.”
Klamath County Parks Manager Tom Crist noted that restrooms at the eight Klamath County parks have been closed. In order to comply with Governor Kate Brown’s order, the restrooms would need to be consistently stocked with hand sanitizer, toilet paper and other items at all times, something that just isn’t possible right now, Crist said.
All eight of the county parks have water access, and the ramps to those water bodies will remain open for activities like fishing. Crist said he made the call to leave the access points open because he doesn’t foresee people having a problem practicing social distancing while out on a lake. The county parks are “very, very rural,” he added. But signs will be posted at the parks to make visitors aware of social distancing rules.
Klamath Falls’ Moore Park is now closed to motorized vehicle traffic. “We saw a lot of activity and people not honoring social distancing guidelines,” Bellon said, adding that many people were “still congregating.” For that reason, City Parks management “felt it safer” to close the park to vehicles.
People are still allowed into Moore Park, Bellon explained, but are expected to practice social distancing and only spend time with people living in their household.
Playgrounds, sport courts, skate parks, dog parks, outdoor equipment and restrooms are all closed throughout the state as part of Governor Kate Brown’s order.
As long as Brown’s executive order remains in place, the gates to Moore Park will remain closed, Bellon said.
Klamath Falls City Parks staff are working in split shifts and monitoring the parks, he added. Postings have been put up at most of the parks letting visitors know what activities they can and can’t enjoy in the public spaces.
A statement from the city parks’ staff expresses, “We as parks and recreation professionals understand that people need the universal and very personal benefits provided through activity and enjoyment in the great outdoors. Especially now when our lives and routines have been so disrupted. Our hope is that our trails and open spaces continue to offer the means to a strengthened immune system and peace of mind.”