The New Normal: A pandemic-sized strain on Washington parks

The state parks system has been the ultimate outdoor refuge this year, but crowds, trash and social distancing have caused stress.

Ann Grabler, office assistant at Millersylvania State Park walks the grounds on August 10, 2020 at Millersylvania State Park near Olympia, WA. The park has seen increases in attendance as high as 26% in the month of July from last year. (Sarah Hoffman/Crosscut)

What do people do in a summer without museums, water parks or movie theaters? They seek refuge outdoors. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for social distancing and public health officials' emphasis on the relative safety of the outdoors have driven an explosion in visits to many parks in Washington. Washington State Parks attendance is up 8% for June and July 2020 as compared with last year. Some parks, like Millersylvania State Park outside Olympia, are seeing crowds swell by as much as 26%. The crowds put excess strain on park staff, who must now add encouraging mask wearing and social distancing to regular duties that have grown in scope, including cleaning campsites and public restrooms overflowing with trash. But Millersylvania office assistant Ann Grabler says that even though bigger crowds bring anxiety, the outdoors still offers moments to hit pause and reconnect with nature.


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