For the first time since the pandemic shut down parks and recreation areas in Oregon, outdoor enthusiasts were able to enjoy Smith Rock State Park over the weekend.
"It’s really amazing being along the trail and seeing the weeds that were popping up where we usually walk and the different flowers that were so undisturbed. It was gorgeous," Joella Long said.
Long and her husband, Michael, are from Bend. The couple was enjoying the park with their dog, Minnie Moo.
Park ranger Matt Davey said the reopening has been smooth so far.
“I thought reopening we might get hit with a huge slam of a lot of cabin fever guests coming out, but it really hasn’t been the case. We’re running about half-capacity right now. And so far it’s no issues,” Davey said.
People were rock climbing, hiking, running and walking their dogs while maintaining social distance guidelines.
“All I’ve seen are smiling faces, people are so ready to be outside again,” Davey said. “It’s great to see people back in the park, having a great time and getting their much-needed recreation back.”
Davey said people have thus far been respectful of the new rules and restrictions in the park, and he’s hopeful that will continue. Areas that are too difficult to navigate while maintaining social distance are closed, as are water fountains and overnight camping.
“Next weekend we’ve got Memorial Day, that’s gonna be the true test,” he said.
He advised guests to only travel up to 50 miles for recreation, to abide by new park rules even if the park is full, and to try to come on days where the park is less busy, like weekday mornings.
“The key is to plan to bring everything that you need for your entire trip, plan a shorter trip and know that you might have reduced services out there,” he advised. He also recommended bringing a mask and using it if enough people are around to make maintaining 6 feet of distance difficult.
"If it gets really busy we’ll either find a time when it’s not busy to come or we’ll keep our distance for a while. [We're] not ready to be around crowds," Mike Seely said. Seely was walking with his wife and their dog, Tank.
Seely’s wife, Sandy, explained that Mike had been coming to Smith Rock since the 1970s.
Despite the new rules, people seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the outdoors and one another's company. Many said they felt that reopening recreation areas was the right move for a variety of reasons.
Anthony Corso and Emma Frederick arrived early in the morning to climb Smith Rock.
"You have to strike some sort of balance between letting people kind of get outside and move and have a semblance of normalcy while also not putting anyone at unnecessary risk," Corso said.
"I think it’s good that they have opened it. I like they’ve sort of put on all of these rules to make it as safe as possible for people," Frederick said.
The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department is taking a gradual approach to opening parks and recreation areas again, opening more day by day for limited day use.
Many mentioned the positive effect enjoying the outdoors has on their mental health.
"I like rock climbing because it’s really physical, it’s a good physical output but it’s also really meditative. You have to be really focused on exactly what’s in front of you, so it’s a really good way for me to decompress and just sort of let go," Sean Reinhart said.
Reinhart was rock climbing with his family, including his high school-aged son, who Reinhart said was happy to be outside instead of distance learning.