By Hunter Levy
for Inland 360
Memorial Day weekend and the rise of temperatures usually marks the beginning of the outdoor recreation summer season, but with restrictions in Washington and Idaho still in effect, area parks and recreation departments are moving forward tentatively.
Last Saturday, Idaho transitioned into stage three of its Idaho Rebounds Plan. In stage three, state parks and overnight camping locations opened for use. People who have been isolating diligently over the past few months now have the chance to use most facilities at local and state parks. Places like Hells Gate State Park in Lewiston are expecting a surge of outdoor enthusiasts.
“Our phone has been ringing off the hook, wondering when we are going to be open, when they can camp. We have a reservation system that people have made reservations with, and it’s showing that we are going to have a lot of campers. People are ready to get outside and recreate,” said Jeff Smith, assistant manager at the park.
Lands, trails and recreation sites managed by the Bureau of Land Management have remained open in Idaho throughout the COVID-19 shutdown. For Idahoans looking to get outdoors but hoping to avoid the rush to newly opened state campgrounds, BLM lands are another option.
For city parks and recreation departments in Idaho, the move to stage three opens up the possibility of holding events, but most are moving forward with caution. In Lewiston, the annual outdoor movie series previously held at Pioneer Park will still go on, but the plans have changed a bit.
“Starting on June 26th, we are going to have a movie series, but we are going to do it as a drive-in up next to Orchard’s pool. We are going to have a six-week series, like we’ve always done, but instead of it being in a park where people can openly sit right near each other, we’re going to spread them out and have them in vehicles with a local radio station providing a radio feed into their cars,” said Tim Barker, director of the Parks and Recreation Department in Lewiston.
The city also is planning to hold its Star Spangled Celebration and Sun Festival Show and Shine July 4 in Pioneer Park, featuring live music, vendors and veterans, but with fewer events to create more space for social distancing. In Clarkston, Fourth of July festivities remain undecided. Usually, fireworks at Clarkston High School’s Adams Field draw hundreds of observers.
“The mayor and city council are currently discussing possibilities. Community Spirit has thought they would still shoot off fireworks but not have a crowd around. Nothing definite yet,” said Kevin Poole, Clarkston’s public works director.
And while most of April’s Dogwood Festival events initially were postponed and then canceled, the 43rd annual Seaport River Run was rescheduled to take place on July 25.
With Lewiston and Clarkston neighboring each other along the border, parks and recreation departments in each city are trying to work in conjunction to minimize people crossing state lines for recreation purposes, Barker said.
One of the projects the two departments are coordinating is Rec-Mobile — a bus with games and activities for kids that travels to different parks in Clarkston and Lewiston throughout the summer. Poole is hopeful that they can keep it going this summer on the Washington side of the border.
“We are waiting for the City of Lewiston to submit their safety plan of operation for the Rec-Mobile. We don’t know if they will be able to operate or not, but we are hopeful that if we have counselors that can keep the kids in groups of less than five to practice safe social distancing and that kind of thing, we will be able to have the Rec-Mobile once a week at Beachview Park.”
Sanitation practices are a concern for local parks and recreation departments this summer. Standard protocol is to clean public restrooms every morning, but this year there is even more focus on keeping park facilities clean.
“We had a local power washing company come through and sanitize all the equipment before we reopened on Saturday. We really wanted that to coincide with the increase in group sizes that are allowed in public spaces,” said Barker.
As Idaho and Washington transition into the higher stages of their respective reopening plans, regional workers are excited to be working toward an open and accessible summer, said Smith of Hells Gate.
“We’re working hard for the public to have the park ready for them. This is what we do. We’ve been kind of working in a different world here recently, not being able to have people camping. We are excited for people to come back and have a busy year.”
DIY projects for the pandemic
With towns canceling festivals, tourist resorts limiting the number of visitors and the recommendation that the public stay close to home during the pandemic, people are making alternative plans for the summer of COVID-19. Here are a few ideas.
Refresh a room. It can be as simple as changing pictures on the wal or hanging new ones by framing photographs you already have with frames from a discount store. Or you can go whole hog with new carpet, drapes and paint. Paint isn’t just for walls; change the look of desks, chairs, tables or bookcases with a new color or finish.
This one’s not so fun, but you’ll feel better afterward. Doesn’t everyone have that one place in their house where mail and documents collect? Spend a day or two organizing. Do online searches to figure out how long certain items should be kept. Shred anything obsolete that contains personal information.
Learn to cook a new dish, perhaps one from your favorite restaurant or a country you dream of visiting.
Look around your neighborhood and you’ll see lots of people are planting gardens this year. Clear some space for food or flowers, or create a window garden. Introduce a chair to the scene to create a new living space.
Summer farmers markets are opening, and fresh, local produce will soon be plentiful, making this the ideal summer to learn or hone preservation and canning skills. Tutorials abound on YouTube, or contact your county extension office for tips and information.
Try a new sport. Pickleball, Frisbee golf, badminton, paddleboarding and golf are some activities that allow you to have fun with others while maintaining safe social distance.
This could be the year to actually get Christmas shopping done early. With stores open and local businesses working to get back on track, it’s an ideal time to shop local and support them. Last-minute shopping with crowds of people during a pandemic is not a pretty thought, and there’s no telling what the situation will be like in December. If you’re not a shopper, you’ve got six months to craft handmade gifts.
— Elaine Williams and Jennifer K. Bauer