Oregon state parks will reopen many of their overnight campgrounds, but not in time for Memorial Day weekend.
The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department said most campgrounds will be offering limited tent and RV reservations to stay overnight on a first-come, first-served basis starting June 9. Camping has been closed at state parks since March 23 to help reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
The OPRD prerequisites to reopen state parks include community and staff readiness, and ability to safely manage the park to protect the health of visitors and staff.
OPRD spokesperson Chris Havel said not all parks and services will offer camping, and yurt and cabin visitors may still experience cancellations.
“Those facilities take more staff and more cleaning time and chemicals and all of that so we may not be able to offer that kind of service,” Havel said. “Tents and RVs [are] much easier, much more self-reliant.”
Visitors who had their reservations canceled from March 23 through June 8 will be allowed to make new reservations two weeks in advance instead of the typical nine months in advance.
OPRD is not allowing reservations longer than 14 days, for now.
“This habit of thinking really far ahead and laying plans, that’s one of the casualties of COVID-19,” Havel said. “The reason we’re only taking reservations two weeks in advance is precisely because we do not know what the future holds.”
An uncertain future has also been one of the reasons why overnight camping is not allowed until after the Memorial Day weekend. Havel said it’s not as easy as flipping a switch and beginning to reopen the parks. The department’s managers have to plan things at least two weeks in advance.
“Two weeks ago, we were not as ready as we are now to operate, and that readiness is for June 9. … If we can’t do it well and we can’t do it safely, we’re not going to do it and that’s been hard. Both for people outside the agency and for our staff to accept,” Havel said.
Staff shortages are another reason for limited camping. OPRD relies on revenue from the Oregon State Lottery, state vehicle registration and fees paid by park visitors. Those revenues have decreased drastically for the past couple of months because of the pandemic and its economic fallout.
“The hundreds of people that we would normally hire, we can’t afford to hire them,” Havel said.
Trash, landscaping and cleaning services will be reduced. Restrooms will be available at each open park, but some shower facilities may be closed.
Havel said some parks may not reopen because the department cannot staff them.
“We are still operating under our governor’s order that says non-essential travel is not a good idea, so we are encouraging people to seek out parks that are as close to home as possible and for you to try a short time as possible to get what you need,” Havel said.
A list of which campgrounds will open June 9 is still being finalized and expected to be published by the end of next week.