This is an update on what OPRD is doing in response to COVID 19. As you probably know, the state park system was closed to visitors March 23. Camping was closed by Governor Kate Brown’s executive order. Starting on May 6, a few day-use areas began to offer limited service across the state. As of May 18, about half of the system offers limited access. The governor’s executive order has been updated, and I am happy to announce limited tent and RV camping will be reestablished starting June 9.
Campers: you should know straight up that this is not the kind of camping experience you are used to. The COVID19 crisis changes the picture dramatically-- we must respond within our means, and in a way that protects public health.
Getting back to park visits and camping is huge for all of us, no matter what it looks like. But, please remember that it’s not always easy to be physically distant from people you encounter. Trails are narrow. People gather in large groups at overlooks, parking areas, trailheads, and restrooms. Every park has hundreds of touch points— handrails, water fountains, door handles, picnic tables—that are impossible to clean between use. We must also contend with vandalism, and theft of toilet paper, soap, and hand sanitizer. Staff make every effort to clean restroom facilities, but physical distancing, reduced staffing, and limited supplies reduce our ability to clean as often as we used to. Ultimately, any facility including a restroom is only as clean as the person who last used it.
A note about how our operations are funded. Oregon State Parks does not receive ANY tax dollars. Nearly the entire operating budget comes from visitor fees and lottery funds. Those sources have virtually dried up. When the shutdown occurred, we responded immediately: shut down most large park projects, stopped all hiring—we never hired nearly 70% of our seasonal workforce—, and tightly controlled spending from the very limited savings we carry for emergency situations. Those measures allowed us to get the system ready for a limited return to service, even with greatly reduced staffing and scarce PPE and cleaning supplies.
What does this mean for you? We’re asking you to give a little---in the form of support, understanding and a willingness to rejoin the park experience on these admittedly difficult terms. Stay close to home, and be prepared when you visit the park. If it’s crowded, go home and try again later. Bring a supply of soap/hand sanitizer in case restrooms are closed, and a face covering if there are large numbers of people in the park. Understand that our limited staff will be doing everything possible to keep up with basic operations, but many routine tasks simply will not be done. That may mean un-mowed landscapes, less trail maintenance, and very few “extra” programs or activities. Some restrooms, most shower facilities, and other buildings will remain closed. We also ask that you take extra care of the park environment and the surrounding community. Many of our special places are seeing extraordinary usage, and smaller local communities are still concerned about how visitors may stress grocery stores or inadvertently spread the virus.
Every park will have special signs to remind you about physical distancing, hygiene practices, face coverings, and other considerations. Please be responsible for yourself to help protect the parks. For up-to-date information about our response and what parks are accessible please visit oregonstateparks.org.
Finally, be kind to each other and the few park staff who are working to keep the system open.
Lisa Sumption, Director
Oregon Parks and Recreation Department