State parks welcome back visitors after reopening

by Casey McCarthy
Staff Writer | May 19, 2020 10:11 PM

GRANT/ADAMS COUNTY — Outdoor enthusiasts, cooped up since restrictions were put in place to combat the spread of COVID-19, descended on state parks after they reopened two weeks ago.

Denis Felton, a park ranger and Coulee Corridor Area manager, said he didn’t expect such a large crowd when the parks reopened and added it’s been fun having people return to the lands. Felton oversees state lands in Central Washington, including Steamboat Rock State Park, Potholes State Park and Sun Lakes-Dry Falls State Park.

“Everybody seemed to be maintaining, doing well, on their social distancing,” he said.

Felton said most of the people returned to the parks to fish, but added that a fair number of hikers were out as well.

Felton advised those using the parks during this time of year to be wary of snakes.

“We’re in rattlesnake season right now; we’re just starting into it,” he said. “Typically, it’s May and June when we get calls to remove snakes where they’re in our more heavily populated areas, our day-use areas, our picnic areas. Usually, we’ll remove them and move them out, just kind of away from people, put ’em more in the back country a little bit.”

Anna Gill, communications director and spokesperson for Washington State Parks, said reopening the parks involved a lot of coordination with other government agencies, specifically the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Washington State Department of Natural Resources.

“We had to determine what amenities and services we offer would be appropriate and safe during COVID,” Gill said.

Limited services at the parks will continue as they work to reopen fully in the coming weeks. Group gathering areas, restrooms, playgrounds and other facilities will have limited access, mostly due to staffing limitations at this time, Gill said.

State-operated beaches and camping areas have been included in Phase Two of Gov. Jay Inslee’s reopening strategy, Gill said. The State Parks Department will work closely with the governor’s office and state officials to move towards that next stage, Gill said.

“As the summer progresses and COVID situation changes, we are going to be adjusting and, hopefully, reopening more and more of our services,” Gill said.