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Vancouver, Clark County officials remind that social distancing applies at parks

It was 77 degrees at 2 p.m. Wednesday, and the line of cars stretching from the parking kiosk at Frenchman’s Bar Regional Park reached all the way back to state Highway 501, also known as N.W. Lower River Road.

The beachfront site was busy, with teenagers playing Frisbee, kids splashing in the water, and speedboats zooming by blasting music. It was the first in a stretch of days that will feel like summer — today, the forecast predicts a high temperature of 89 degrees, a full 20 degrees above the area’s average temperature for May 28.

For Patrick Poteete and Tyler Robinson, friends who came to Frenchman’s Bar with Robinson’s children, it was a welcome reprieve. How have the last few months been, cooped up in the house with the kids out of school?

“Stressful,” Robinson said, rubbing sunscreen into his arms.

While local park agencies want people to enjoy the sun, they’re also issuing a reminder: We’re still in the middle of a pandemic, and it’s important to adhere to safe protocol regardless of how glorious the weather gets.

“Things like social distancing are still absolutely required in a park. If you show up to a park, and there’s too many people there, we ask you to go home and try another time,” said Magan Reed, communications manager for Clark County Public Works. “It comes to mind as the weather starts to get nicer.”

Reed said her department is encouraging people to stick to their local community parks during the COVID-19 outbreak rather than recreating at the larger regional sites like Frenchman’s Bar.

The purpose is twofold, she said. Of course, it helps ward off crowds. But it also keeps people close to home, which is especially useful because most public restrooms at Clark County parks are still closed.

“That way if they need to use the restroom, they have quick access to get back,” Reed said.

Other park amenities, like picnic shelters, playgrounds and sport courts, additionally remain closed to the public.

Clark County remains in Phase 1, the strictest of four coronavirus recovery stages laid out by Gov. Jay Inslee’s office to slow the spread of the virus.

It’s understandable that people might start feeling antsy, said Melody Burton, marketing manager for Vancouver Parks and Recreation.

“We definitely have a lot of concerns about people practicing social distancing,” Burton said. “Also as people get anxious about waiting to move to the next phase, and having the application delayed,” she added, referring to a decision Saturday from Inslee’s office to shelve Clark County’s application to move into Phase 2 after a major outbreak of the new coronavirus at a Fruit Valley food processing plant.

Don’t leave trash

Reed asked visitors to keep an extra close eye on their trash, and to leave sites in a better condition than when they arrived — evergreen advice, she said, but especially important now with the county’s public works crew stripped down to the essentials. They don’t have as many workers as they usually would this time of year helping keep the parks clean.

“We’re lacking in temporary staffing that we usually have for the warmer season,” Reed said. “We try to focus on the high-traffic areas.”

Burton said there’s also been a noticeable increase in trash left at city parks as the weather improves.

“The place where we’ve really seen a bigger uptick is in Waterfront Park, I think as a lot more people pick up meals to-go,” Burton said. “It is more than usual, but I think it’s related to people enjoying local restaurants, which is a good thing.”

Burton concluded by encouraging residents to stay the course, even if frustrations with social distancing mandates start to rise with the temperature.

“The system we have in place is working,” Burton said. “Remember that we’re still in Phase 1. Take the steps now, to make sure we can try to get out of this phase as soon as possible.”


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