Face it; there are only so many episode of Netflix’s “Tiger King” you can binge-watch in one sitting before you start feeling a little cooped up and need to walk the dog; or borrow the neighbor’s dog for a walk.
Under Gov. Jay Inslee’s orders to “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” last week — a proclamation that closed all non-essential businesses and barred public and private gatherings for at least two weeks and possibly longer — some still are sorting out what they can and can’t do within rules intended to slow the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.
If you were planning on taking the dog to an off-leash park; keep walking.
Most hoping to visit public parks managed by local governments or the state found gates locked and park facilities, such as off-leash areas, playgrounds, basketball and tennis courts, golf courses, boat launches and even restrooms, cordoned off or locked up.
For the most part, pedestrians are welcomed to roam park greenspaces by foot or bike, but facilities for “active recreation” have been closed.
There is a Catch-22 of sorts here; while it’s vital to reduce the opportunities where we might come into contact with someone infected with the coronavirus, our bodies and minds need exercise, fresh air and connection with nature for our health and mental well-being. A commentary on Page B7 of Sunday’s Herald cites some 140 studies that have confirmed that connection, showing that time outdoors can reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stress and high blood pressure.
And most Washington residents know what it’s like to crave sunlight and build up our stores of vitamin D, which is needed to maintain the healthy immune system we need to fight off viruses.
It’s not an easy thing for a parks official to lock up a park, agreed Lori Cummings, Everett’s director of Parks and Recreation. “But we’re supporting the stay-home-and-healthy initiative,” she said by phone last week.
“We want people to remain healthy, and being outside is part of that. So you can walk or ride a bike or walk the dog; on a leash,” she said. But for now, those are the basic limits of park use. Gated parking lots are closed, so most will have to walk to their neighborhood parks.
Yet, even those activities still require that those using parks continue to abide by social-distancing practices and keep six feet or more away from others, she said.
Cummings and Everett Assistant Parks Director Bob Leonard said that park rangers remain on duty, but the park closures have allowed the city to send home other parks staff. Mowing and other maintenance has been suspended, so those visiting parks should be prepared to pack out anything they brought into the park.
Each city and the county are making their own decisions on facilities but are working in consultation with each other and Snohomish Health District to maintain a consistent message, Cummings said.
Snohomish County Parks has closed gates to parking areas and bathrooms at its parks. County Executive Dave Somers said in a statement that part of the reason for closing parking lots was to limit the numbers of those at the parks, reducing the risk of transmission.
If you saw the news reports of crowded parks and beaches recently, where people were treating the outing like any other spring day, you might have a better understanding of why public officials moved quickly to limit park use.
Public officials are sympathetic regarding those who want to get outside and get some fresh air and exercise. Tara Mizell, director of Marysville’s Parks, Culture and Recreation, said Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring has been protective of the need to keep that city’s trails and parks open. Marysville park playgrounds and skateboard park are roped off, but restrooms — with hand-sanitizer stations at the ready — remain open, she said.
Park visitors, Mizell said, appear to be complying with recommendations to keep some distance, even with a slight increase in park visitors, noting that there’s been more use of the free dog-waste bags at parks and trails.
Likewise, Washington State Parks has closed state-managed parks, wildlife areas and water access areas until at least April 8. Camping and overnight facilities at state parks are closed through April 30. Wildlife areas managed by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife remain open, but restroom facilities have been closed. National Parks also have either been fully or partially closed.
The steps being taken to limit exposure and spread of the virus have required extreme sacrifices from nearly all of us. Kids are out of school; businesses are closed; adults have been laid off or have lost work hours; others are adjusting to working from home.
Arriving at a park to find a locked gate might seem like just one more disappointment added to our already difficult lives.
Cummings and other parks officials aren’t taking these closures lightly.
“We’re committed to doing our part to reduce the spread of disease,” Cummings said. “As much as we are big believers in the benefits of parks and what they provide, right now, getting outside and getting some fresh air and exercise … we have to do that closer to home.”