The Outdoors as Sanctuary From Coronavirus Turmoil

by Jack Russillo

Note: This article was published prior to Gov. Jay Inslee’s shelter-in-place announcement issued 3/23/20

There is no good time for a pandemic like COVID-19 (the disease caused by the novel coronavirus) to hit, but at least the onset of sunny springtime weather is helping ease the stress of social distancing.

As the virus has spread through King County and the rest of the world over the past several months, more restrictions have been enacted in communities that keep many people out of work, away from schools, and isolated at home.

While Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has decided against adopting California’s shelter-in-place order—where non-essential businesses would close altogether and people would be required to stay at home other than for critical functions— should he reconsider, even more residents of the Pacific Northwest’s largest city would find a wealth of time on their hands.

A silver lining to the Coronavirus stretching into the dawn of spring, is that our region is just waking up from the dark and wet winter. Since Daylight Savings occurred two weeks ago, we’ve been able to enjoy the longer days as they’ve become sunnier and warmer, and that trend is only going to increase as we move closer to summer.

Already known for its outdoor resources, Seattle’s balmy weather at a time many of its flowers and trees bloom is only one more reason to get out and enjoy the city’s natural beauty. It also allows for a break from the news, an important self-care drill during this crisis.

And many are taking the needed respite.

Joggers are utilizing the emptier sidewalks while cyclists and skaters are taking more territory on the roadways. Dogs accompany their owners on just about every errand-run. Raised garden beds are being built and tended to in yards all around residential areas.

“There have definitely been a lot of people coming out to the park,” Jordan Lee, a frequent visitor to Beacon Hill’s Jefferson Park, said. “I don’t know if it’s because of the nice weather or because of the virus but they’re definitely out here… I’ve been working from home for about a week now and I’ve been coming out to the park almost everyday. It’s a good place to come to relax and get away from the house.”

Public green spaces are in neighborhoods all around King County and are staying open while operating under restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic. All Seattle, King County, and Washington State Parks programs and events are cancelled and visitor and interpretive centers will be closed until at least sometime in mid-April. On Friday, King County Parks and Seattle Parks and Recreations announced closures of picnic shelters, sports courts, playground equipment, and other active recreation areas.

All parks, natural lands, regional and backcountry trails, and beaches will remain open but social distancing is strongly encouraged. Ballfields and playfields can still be utilized for walking and other non-team activities.

Restrooms within parks will continue to be open to the public, and will be cleaned and sanitized frequently. The Rainier and Delridge Community Centers are continuing their free shower programs, but on a modified schedule that can be found on the Seattle Parks and Recreation website.

Some of this author’s favorite Seattle green spaces are: Seward Park, for its miles of trails through old growth forest, along Lake Washington shorelines, and under eagles nests; Jefferson Park with its flat fields, winding paths, and views of the Cascade and Olympic mountain ranges; and the West Duwamish Greenbelt, the largest greenbelt in the city and forest-home to a mix of wildlife from foxes to bald eagles.

Other public spaces around the South End of Seattle include the winding pathway along Lake Washington Boulevard (a part of the Lake Washington Loop Trail), Kubota Garden, Alki Beach, the Chief Sealth Trail (a 4.5-mile paved trail from Jefferson Park to Kubota Garden), and the Mountain To Sound Greenway alongside Interstate 90. Biking is another option for exploring these trails, but it’s not the only other way to experience the outdoors.

If extended physical activity isn’t an option, moving a sedentary activity from inside the home to an outdoor space could be. To help support restaurants that have closed down during the pandemic, ordering takeout food can give them a much-needed economic boost and then that food can be eaten anywhere, whether it’s on a park bench with a view of mountains, sitting on a patch of grass with a spring breeze blowing by, or from the comfort of home.

Beyond King County, Mount Rainier and all other national parks are still open and are not collecting any entry (normally $30 per vehicle) or other fees until further notice to limit transactions that could risk transmitting the coronavirus. Aside from restrooms, interpretive centers and other facilities will be closed for some time. And state officials announced Sunday that Washington campgrounds would remain closed until at least April 30. Federal campgrounds are still open as of this writing.

Public space operators are advising visitors to consider their health and that of others before leaving their homes and to abide by official public health guidelines. It’s important to stay home if you’re showing any symptoms of the Coronavirus. When leaving home, though it might feel like a typical spring day, it’s important to remember to practice social distancing and keep at least six feet away from others. Washing hands and using hand sanitizer are heavily encouraged.

Mayor Jenny Durkan tweeted Friday that Seattle city employees will be posted at some of the city’s busiest parks to remind people about social distancing. Durkan also reiterated that parks should not be used as gathering spots and that if people continue to gather in unsafe numbers that Seattle parks could be closed altogether.