The state Department of Natural Resources is closing all DNR-managed lands to public recreation. The closure goes into effect Thursday and will last through at least April 8. It’s an additional step in government efforts to stop the spread of the new coronavirus.
The closure includes trails and trailheads, beaches, water access sites, day-use areas, roads and areas used for hunting and target shooting, among other properties. The initiative comes from Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz, who says people should not be congregating in places where social distancing isn’t easy to enforce.
“The grocery stores have put in red lines, right? To create that 6-foot distance,” Franz said. “We don’t have the ability to put on our trails those red lines to make sure people are following those rules. And unfortunately, people aren’t.”
Franz says when the virus first hit and things started slowing down, she was happy to see people out in nature, finding solace there in the face of challenging times. But then she started seeing photos of crowded beaches and viewpoints in places like Long Beach and Rattlesnake Ridge. They showed unprecedented numbers of people recreating, shoulder to shoulder. She decided she needed to take action, to prevent the possible spread of the new coronavirus through activities on Washington’s public lands.
“This behavior undercuts the sacrifices that Washingtonians of all means and ability must make right now, in order to adhere to the social distancing — and for us to truly flatten the curve,” she said.
She’s putting a stop to it with the announcement, which comes in the wake of the closure of all state campgrounds over the weekend and Wednesday's decision by Washington State Parks to shutter all its properties, not only to overnight camping but also to day use. In addition, all wildlife areas managed by Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife are closing, as well.
Franz says closing campgrounds was an easier decision — easier to implement and to explain. But she says although this is difficult, she wants to send a clear message that everyone needs to pitch in to help slow the pandemic.
Gates will be closed and barriers put up. Local law enforcement will join 13 DNR wardens to patrol the public lands, which cover nearly 6 million acres. Citations with $99 dollar fines are possible, but the officers will focus primarily on education. DNR employees and others who work on the public lands will be able to continue to maintain forests, fight fires and carry out other essential duties there.
The Washington Trails Association offers guidance for hikers who wish to safely enjoy the outdoors during the outbreak.