Inslee to loosen restrictions on outdoor recreation on May 5

OLYMPIA — Starting next week, Washingtonians will be able to hike, fish, hunt and golf, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Monday.

With social-distancing measures in place, boat ramps, trailheads and golf courses and other public lands can open May 5, in addition to seasonal hunting and fishing seasons. The decision gives residents outdoor recreation opportunities that have been unavailable since Inslee enacted his “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order in March.

Residents are asked not to boat, hike, fish, hunt or golf with anyone they don’t live with and to continue practicing social distancing. If the state sees an uptick in coronavirus cases, restrictions and closures could be reinstated, Inslee said.

“This is not a return to normal today,” Inslee said. “The virus is too rampant to allow that.”

Inslee’s order ends May 4, but social-distancing measures will “certainly extend beyond that date,” he said.

“Data, not dates, determine how we act,” he said. “We have a plan for reopening our state, but it depends on how the data comes in.”

While state parks are opening their gates for hiking, camping is still prohibited. Additionally, some state-owned lands might not open right away. A list of parks remaining closed will be available at the end of the week, parks officials said.

If you plan on visiting one, check www.parks.wa.gov before you go.

Statewide, as of Sunday, there had been 13,521 cases of COVID-19 and 749 deaths.

Inslee’s announcement comes three days after the governor laid out a plan to resume some construction that was under way when he first issued his stay-home order.

To continue easing social-distancing measures, statistics like infection rates and hospitalizations must continue to fall, the governor said, and the state needs to see increased testing capacity and robust contact-tracing.

Washington is making progress on forming a “small army” of 1,500 contact tracers by May 11, Inslee said.

“But the models still give us great pause and not enough confidence to throw open the gates,” he said.

Some conservative state lawmakers have criticized Inslee’s order as unconstitutional.

State law gives the governor wide authority under declared emergencies, which includes prohibiting people from “gathering on the public streets, parks, or other open areas of this state, either public or private” and any “activities as he or she reasonably believes should be prohibited to help preserve and maintain life, health, property or the public peace.”

State Sen. Robert Sutherland, R-Granite Falls, contends Inslee’s emergency powers do not extend to barring a person from getting into a boat and going fishing, alone or not.

“These are very uncharted waters, as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “I’m very happy that he’s moving in the right direction. But sorry, governor, you never did have the authority to tell us we could or could not go fishing.”

At a rally in Olympia, Sutherland declared May 1 to be the day when fishing should return. That was an arbitrary date, he said Monday, adding that he was not planning any events to protest whatever timeline the governor might be announcing.

Joey Thompson: 425-339-3449; jthompson@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @byjoeythompson.

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