COVID-22: Yes, de-stress with rec but your getaway  opportunities are shrinking

Eric Barker

Last week I wrote about the value of getting outside as a cure for the stress and anxiety related to the coronavirus pandemic.

At that time, public land in Idaho and Washington remained open as did recreational pursuits like hunting, fishing, hiking and biking.

Conditions have changed and are continuing to do so at a rapid pace. I still believe there is value in spending time outdoors if it’s done right. That means in uncrowded areas, close to your home community and where social distancing can be readily practiced.

Right now, we know that land managed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission and the Washington Department of Natural Resources is closed.

That means places like the Asotin Wildlife Area are off limits. Heller Bar Boat Ramp is closed, but Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Staci Lehmen said people who had launched previously are allowed to use the ramp to exit the river.

Washington also closed the state to recreational fishing through at least April 8. Lehmen said her agency is working hard to determine how to proceed with things like the turkey hunting season that opens April 15. She said officials want to keep it open but also know that people often travel to participate in it. They have not yet made a decision.

“Just stay tuned,” she said. “We are changing day by day.”

The closures are designed to comply with Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-at-home order.

Inslee previously recommended people continue to engage in outdoor activity while also practicing social distancing techniques. But too many people flocked to popular destinations, sometimes traveling great distances to do so, and increased the risk of spreading the illness caused by the virus.

Gem State

Idaho Gov. Brad Little issued a similar order Wednesday. In response, Idaho Parks and Recreation closed camping at state parks starting today and lasting through May 15. The parks, however, remain open for day-use recreation.

Parks and Recreation Director David Langhorst said camping was shut down because it is difficult to maintain social distancing in concentrated campgrounds and because some communities near parks expressed concern that out-of-area campers could bring in COVID-19.

“Despite the camping closure, outdoor activity is encouraged — but Gov. Little and public health officials urge people to recreate close to home —and to follow best practices, such as keeping 6 feet away from others and avoiding groups of 10 or more persons. Hiking, biking and running can relieve stress for those who are in good health and seeking a physical outlet,” according to the news release.

So what does “close to home” mean in a state like Idaho? It’s difficult to define, Langhorst said.

“If I’m going to go 20 miles to a park with a lot of trails and a lot of people, is that better than driving 100 miles and being in a roadless area around nobody? You can’t just say driving further is bad,” he said.

He urged people to be safe, exercise good judgement and consider the health and safety of others when picking recreational destinations.

“Our main thing we want to urge people to consider (is) the small rural communities they are impacting and realize they don’t have the services, medical and other like supplies, so people should bring what they need with them and pack it all out and don’t rely on the locals to provide services.”

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game is not closing its seasons.

“Hunting and fishing are still outdoor activities that if people are maintaining their social distancing are fine to continue doing,” said Fish and Game spokesman Roger Phillips.

Officials at the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest were analyzing Little’s order Thursday to determine if closures or suspension of activities would be required.

Federal lands have largely remained open across the country, but some destinations that attract large crowds, like Yellowstone National Park, have closed.

Barker is the outdoors editor for the Tribune. He can be contacted at ebarker@lmtribune.com or at (208) 848-2273. Follow him on Twitter @ezebarker.

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