Washington anglers and duffers can circle May 5 on their calendar. It’s the day that fishing and golfing reopen, with some restrictions.
Gov. Jay Inslee and officials that oversee state lands and recreation activities announced Monday the partial lifting of limitations put in place last month to combat the spread of COVID-19.
Recreational fishing can resume on May 5, although Inslee urged that people keep the 6-foot social distancing recommended for being out of the home, and only share a boat with a family member in the same household. They are also urged to bring their own food and supplies, not congregate in parking lots or trail heads and pick a spot that they can reach and return from in the same day.
Golf, too, can resume on May 5, although players should maintain social distancing while playing and courses should arrange for twosomes, rather than foursomes unless all four people are from the same household. Spokane city and county parks officials will be meeting Tuesday to finalize the same guidelines for their courses and expect to be open on the following Tuesday.
Local hunting for turkey and black bear will open on May 5, and the spring bear season will be extended until June 30.
Most state parks and public lands also will open for hiking and day use – again with social distancing practices – on or shortly after that date as soon as weather allows and staff has a chance to do any needed maintenance. Visitors should check state websites for which are open and bring their own water, hand sanitizer and masks, Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz said.
Reconnecting with nature “will bring a sense of normalcy back into our lives,” said Don Hoch, Washington Parks and Recreation director.
Overnight camping, whether at campsites, group areas or in the back country, is still not allowed.
Shutting down most outdoor recreation on March 25 as part of his “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order was a very difficult decision, Inslee said. Being able to relax those restrictions was based on improving health data that shows Washington is making headway in fighting COVID-19.
“If this virus were to spring back, we might have to roll back some of these restrictions again,” he added.
It’s the second loosening of restrictions announced in four days. Last Friday, Inslee relaxed rules to allow some commercial and residential construction to resume. Other restrictions could be relaxed in the coming days, including the prospect of elective surgery resuming at some hospitals that have adequate supplies of personal protective equipment.
But the process for all business to resume will be a slow one and depends on data, not dates, he said.
“We’re going to have to maintain plenty of restrictions after May 4,” Inslee said, which is the current date when the current stay-home order is set to expire.
Bob Rees, executive director for the Northwest Guides and Anglers Association, said the reopening will be critically important for the industry. The restrictions in Washington closed the spring chinook season on the Columbia River, he said.
“We need to get back to work,” Rees said. “This is when we make our money to store away for the winter.”
Washington was the only state in the nation that closed both hunting and fishing, he said. It was the first state to respond to the COVID-19 crisis, and was “somewhat more justified” in the closure, he added, but “we thought it could have been structured differently.”
New guidelines for Spokane County and City golf courses will be announced later this week, after local officials have a chance to review the state guidelines and determine the best way to implement them, Doug Chase, county golf director, said.
With the courses closed for the first six weeks of spring, there’s significant pent up demand among Spokane golfers, Chase said. But on the plus side, with no one on them for that period “they’re in fantastic shape.”
One likely change, along with the social distancing guidelines to keep most games to two players, is that each player will have their own cart, City Parks Director Garrett Jones said. Clubhouses will serve only takeout as they did under restrictions before the state ordered all courses closed. The courses will also limit interaction in the clubhouse, take online payments, eliminate cash and put up “sneeze guards” in the pro shops, he said.
The city and county are taking a “regional approach” to have the same rules to avoid confusion on the part of players, Jones said.
Also Monday, Inslee said Washington will be getting $300 million in CARES Act funding from the federal government to be distributed to cities and counties. The allocation of that money will be determined in the coming days. But the demand for help from local governments, which are “on the front lines” of fighting the virus, is likely to outstrip that amount, and Congress will need to come up with more, he said.
He called the suggestion by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that states might have to declare bankruptcy “the most wrong-headed, ludicrous idea I’ve heard in a long time.”
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