Temperatures in Portland are expected to reach the 70s for the first time this year, tempting everyone who's been housebound to head to their local park.
Now Portland Parks & Recreation is gearing up for those crowds by stationing "park greeters" at popular greenspaces to remind people to maintain physical distance during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Following Gov. Kate Brown's order barring all nonessential travel, the agency has shut down many of its core amenities. Last month, PP&R cut off vehicle access to dozens of sites—like Mount Tabor and Powell Butte—by closing parking lots and roads; stripped tennis courts of their nets and locked the gates; and wrapped playgrounds in caution tape.
Despite those measures, the public continued to flood into parks last weekend, making some too clogged with bodies to be safe amid a respiratory virus outbreak.
While the Oregon State Parks system closed its day-use areas, parking lots and restrooms to the public on March 23, Portland has kept its recreation sites open so that people still have some place to stretch their legs and get some fresh air.
Warning signs are posted at parks and trailheads explaining the health guidelines, but the parks bureau has determined that's not enough. Some of the agency's employees will shift to the park greeter roles, letting visitors know they need to stay 6 feet apart from one another.
Portland Parks and Recreation officials did not respond to questions from WW about when and where the greeters would be stationed. The Oregonian first reported the use of greeters for crowd control.
Anticipating the rush brought out by sunny skies, Washington Park is trying to stave off cabin fever by pushing people to its website for virtual tours of its grounds.
"As Oregonians, we love getting outside during these sunny spring days, especially right now, but it's also increasingly difficult to maintain proper social and physical distancing in the park," Heather McCarey, executive director of Explore Washington Park, stated in a press release. "We understand it's not the same, but as a safe alternative we created a way for people to visit online as well as support the park's beloved cultural institutions."
Even as Portland parks remain open, hikers are determined to hit the Gorge despite the closure of the Historic Columbia River Highway and every waterfall in the area. Oregon Department of Transportation crews have reported spotting more than 200 vehicles an hour along the route, many trespassing by going around barricades and taking down closure signs, the Salem Statesman-Journal reported.
ODOT, the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office and the U.S. Forest Service are running into visitors about once every four minutes
Those startling numbers prompted ODOT to close an additional seven miles of the highway this morning, from 8 am to 8 pm, from Larch Mountain Road to Angels Rest. Previously, access was denied between Bridal Veil Falls and Ainsworth State Park.
Portland Parks & Recreation stresses that if a park is too packed, turn around and find another recreation area or go home. Announce your presence to others on trails and step aside to let people pass. Wear face masks to reduce the spread of COVID-19 when you head out. And if you feel sick, stay inside.