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Park-goers react to Kirkland closing docks, parking lots at waterfront parks

A group of about 20 teenagers could be seen on the dock of one of Kirkland's still-open waterfront parks. (Nicole Jennings/KIRO Radio)

The City of Kirkland had to take action at its waterfront parks this week to stop crowds from gathering — and is warning that more restrictive measures could be in store if people don’t adhere to the rules.

The city has shut down access to docks at two popular parks on Lake Washington between downtown Kirkland and State Route 520 — Houghton Beach Park and David E. Brink Park. The parking lot at Houghton has also been closed off. Houghton also contains a children’s playground that has been roped off since the start of the pandemic.

The city said, despite efforts to break up large gatherings, encourage social distancing, and hand out thousands of masks, community members have still come forward saying laws were being broken and safety was at risk in the parks.

A KIRO Radio reporter who lives in the area has confirmed that large gatherings of unmasked people standing close together can be found in the waterfront parks on just about a daily basis when it’s hot out.

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“The issue that we’ve been confronting the most has been young people hanging out on these docks and piers in very large numbers and in very close proximity,” said Kellie Stickney, communications manager for the city.

The current restrictions stop the popular activities of sitting on docks conversing, and jumping off docks into the lake, but people are still allowed to access the grass and the beachfront. However, Stickney said if things don’t change, the next step will be more drastic.

“If we’re not able to get these large gatherings and other activities to stop, and get people to wear their masks, I’m afraid the next step would be closing the parks entirely,” she said.

At Marsh Park, which sits between the two restricted parks and currently has full access to its dock and parking lot, park-goers reacted to the news in varied ways Wednesday afternoon.

“I think that’s a smart move because I just see none of these kids doing any social distancing at all,” said Bellevue resident Len, pointing at a group of about 20 teenagers standing on the dock. “They’re all within a foot of each other.”

Ryan, a swimmer at Marsh Park’s beach, said he was afraid the city would shut off access for everyone sticking to the rules because of the actions of some.

“I think with some common sense physical distance, it’s possible to have a good time and keep the park open to everyone. Just wear your masks in proximity of anyone, friends, strangers, avoid crowding, and the parks can stay open,” he said. “I wouldn’t want anyone who is so selfish around me either because if they aren’t careful in the park, then they probably aren’t careful elsewhere — I don’t know.”

But members of the group on the dock, most of whom were not wearing masks, said they weren’t concerned about the city’s restrictions, or any new ones that could be imposed in the near future.

“The city can do whatever they want, but at the end of the day, I’m young and I’m reckless, so I’m going to do what I want,” said teenager Jay, who lives in South King County.

Some of the teens said they do worry about immuno-compromised family members, but they trust their friends not to have the virus.

“My dad has cancer, and he could highly get it, and same with some of my other friends, and I know people who have it, but on really hot days, like at 90 degrees or even just 70, … everyone is just going to try to cool off, to get in the water, and live their year,” said Dylan, who lives in Redmond.

She added that they don’t want to break up into smaller groups because some people wouldn’t be included.

“We can’t really control it — then we feel like we’re leaving people out, and then the other person gets sad,” she said. “So basically, instead of going off the rules, we go off our friends, just keeping everyone happy.”

She said if anyone feels sick, they’ll stay home.

“It’s just a risk that I’m — not willing to take, but — I’m trying to live my life, because at some point, we all die,” she said.

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