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Public lands to reopen for ‘every type of recreation, except for camping’

A hiker crosses the bridge over Icicle Creek outside Leavenworth, Wash. (MyNorthwest.com File Photo)

The Stay Home, Stay Healthy initiative has been extended through May 31, but outdoor recreation opportunities will resume in Washington state starting May 5.

Gov. Inslee announces partial reopening of outdoor recreation on May 5

“On Tuesday, we are reopening our public lands and state parks,” Hilary Franz, state commissioner of public lands, told The Jason Rantz Show. “It’s going to be opening on a rolling basis. We’re trying to get all our of our public lands open as quickly as we can.”

Staying safe while enjoying the outdoors

With millions of acres to reopen, there are some places that will not be ready for visitors immediately as they may need some maintenance work to be safe. Franz said her department is trying its best to open all lands as soon as possible, and will keep an updated list of open spaces on its website.

“People will be able to do every type of recreation, except for camping,” she said. “What we’re urging people to do is make sure when they’re recreating to be safe, the usual safety tips. But in this case, also taking steps to be a responsible recreationist and plan ahead with a lunch, make sure they have gas, make sure to have the key resources, come prepared.”

There will probably be limited restroom services, so Franz suggested bringing your own soap, water, and hand sanitizer. Franz is also encouraging people to wear a face covering over their nose and mouth and to follow social distancing guidelines in parks, on trails, just as you would whenever you go out in public.

Additionally, the department is asking people to stay close to home for recreation as much as possible. If you go somewhere that is already crowded, move on to another area.

“We’re, right now, following the lead of the governor and the Department of Health,” Franz said. “We’re not, at the Department of Natural Resources, health scientists.”

“They are telling us that it is safe to reopen for day use recreation where people, … they believe, have taken on and learned this rule around social distancing,” she added.

Public health officials have told Franz and her department that the conditions now permit adjustment or removal of some of the provisions regarding recreation areas and public land use. Camping, however, is one activity that still remains of concern.

“Probably given the number of campsites, maybe, and the amount of people that will be coming together in that,” she said.

Preparing for a difficult fire season

For Franz, her main priority at this time is making sure the firefighters are safe as wildfire season has already started.

“Most of my focus every single day is making sure my firefighters are safe because we’ve never, ever had to fight the catastrophic wildfires we see every year in the same time we have a global pandemic,” she said. “We’re used to our firefighters getting a virus and quickly spreading through a camp, but never is that virus one that’s deadly.”

In preparing for fire season, they’ve had to move training online, with the hope of doing at least one on-site training by the end of June. They’ve also had to use many of their resources to respond to COVID, from incident management to securing personal protective equipment.

“There’s no manual written on how you keep firefighters safe in the context of a global pandemic,” she said. “They eat, sleep, and are working within six feet of each other. So we’re having to write that book as we go.”

Firefighters who have been responding to the smaller fires have been put up in a hotel rather than being gathered together in a camp, but Franz said that can’t be done when the larger fires start up. They’ve also limited the number of people on engines and in helicopters from four to two.

“I think the biggest concern we have is incident management teams come nationwide and there are very few of them, and they’re already being utilized to respond to COVID,” Franz said. “National Guard has already said if this pandemic continues, they will likely have limited ability to be able to respond to wildfires.”

While you’re at home, remember to check for burn bans in your area and avoid lighting yard debris piles on fire. Franz suggested creating defensible space around your house, and doing what you can to help reduce the challenges of what will be a difficult fire season.

“It would have been a difficult one without a global pandemic,” Franz said. “But now, if the pandemic continues, it’s going to make it all the more challenging.”

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show weekday afternoons from 3 – 6 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (or HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here.

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