Transcript: A pandemic-sized strain on Washington parks
Ann Grabler: You take away museums, you take away water parks, you take away a lot of the indoor closed spaces, movie theaters, and folks are still wanting to engage and do something fun.
Ann Grabler: And the safest place to do that is outside.
Ann Grabler: To just be outside and in a space where you maybe not have to think about how the sky is falling in so many ways around us.
Ann Grabler: This year, we are packed all the time.
Ann Grabler: It's been very, very, very busy.
Anna Gill: In Chelan County we had two parks there that we had to take some measures to prevent additional people from parking outside of the park and trying to enter because the crowds were enormous, and it was really hard to manage and maintain social distancing.
Anna Gill: Our visitation numbers for last year were about 38 million people came to state parks.
Anna Gill: Anecdotally, we've been hearing we're so busy. We're busier than we've ever been.
Ann Grabler: And it looks like we have 48 incoming reservations today.
Ann Grabler So it’s pretty busy for a Monday.
Anna Gill: Every summer, we're busy on the weekends, but during the week we've typically had a little bit of a lull or a slump.
Anna Gill: And this year we're just not seeing that.
Ann Grabler: Are you wanting something available tonight?
Ann Grabler: OK, let me, I don't know if I have something.
Anna Gill: And so I think that that's what makes some of these visitation numbers so impressive is that we're up and we weren't even fully open.
Anna Gill: In fact, we still, to this day, don't have our visitor centers or interpretive centers open.
Anna Gill: And lots of our group areas are still closed as well.
Anna Gill: A lot of people this summer, as you can imagine, have been drawn to some of the parks that have swimming opportunities.
Ann Grabler: There's a lot of folks who feel very confident that outdoors is safer.
Ann Grabler: And when it becomes a filled space, it's no longer as safe as it was if it was less filled.
Ann Grabler: So I think that the hardest piece is knowing I'm carrying this anxiety and trying to do the right thing and encouraging folks to come visit us and all of that stuff.
Ann Grabler: And then we have folks who show up and there's litter everywhere, and they're not wearing masks in the bathroom.
Ann Grabler: And so it's disheartening.
Ann Grabler: You know, no one person's life has not been impacted by this.
Ann Grabler: Hang on one second. My mom's in the hospital.
Ann Grabler: Hey, little mom.
Ann Grabler: It's tough, my mom is in a vulnerable population and seeing her has taken on a whole new connotation.
Ann Grabler: So my mom has brain cancer.
Ann Grabler: They gave her five years and she's on like year 18, which is pretty badass.
Ann Grabler: Yeah, so if you and I can make a deal that you drink your coffee and then I'll call you back as soon as I can.
Ann Grabler: Does that sound fair?
Ann Grabler: Because of what I'm exposed to, it's impacted even how I recreate and or socialize.
Ann Grabler: All right, well, and I love you a little mom, OK?
Ann Grabler: So I'll call you back here in a little bit.
Anna Gill: Most of our day use in camping parks have been reopened.
Anna Gill: Right now, it really offers people an opportunity to get outside and reconnect with nature.
Anna Gill: For so long we've been stuck at home and a lot of the other recreation opportunities that people typically went to during the summer aren't open.
Girl: Thank you, bye.
Ann Grabler: You are welcome. “Have a great day!”
Anna Gill: 80% of our budget comes from earned revenue and that's user fees.
Anna Gill: Whether that's camping or day-use passes, like our Discover Pass.
Anna Gill: And that's how we make our money.
Anna Gill: And so when we were shut down, it essentially stopped our ability to be able to earn revenue.
Anna Gill: So this summer, when we normally would have a lot more staff in the parks, we weren't able to hire those seasonal staff like we have in years past.
Anna Gill: People that are new to the parks are rediscovering them after a long time.
Anna Gill: They're new to the outdoors; they're not always as familiar with typical protocols.
Anna Gill: And one of the things we've been noticing is a lot more trash in our parks.
Anna Gill: When we have more people coming into the parks, that in it of itself creates more of a workload for them.
Anna Gill: But when they're also leaving more trash and leaving more things behind, and it's basically our staff are needing to do more with less.
Ann Grabler: For the most part I am the main point of contact for anything camping or day use related.
Ann Grabler: I maybe spend a total of 10 minutes in this space.
Ann Grabler: So my job does not look like this, most of the time.
Ann Grabler: We were gonna do a campsite cleanup bingo.
Ann Grabler: We are trying to count how many cigarette butts are left in fire pits.
Ann Grabler: The little Pop Rock papers, sunflower seeds, the little dental flossers, balloons, Nerf darts, flip-flops, and beach towels, piles of puke.
Ann Grabler: That's a weird one.
Ann Grabler: Oh, I came across like a bottle with an interesting substance inside of it.
Ann Grabler: I couldn't tell you if it was like urine in a bottle that once had — I don't ... — soup, maybe? Like, I don't know.
Ann Grabler: I didn't wanna dwell on it too long; it was really weird.
Ann Grabler: And it's not good for the animals and it's not good for the ecosystems that reside within our parks.
Anna Gill: When the pandemic first came on the scene, the governor shut down most of the state, including our parks.
Anna Gill: And so we were completely shut down for both day use and camping for five weeks.
Anna Gill: I think one of the most critical components to what we might do would be what the situation was with COVID or the pandemic.
Anna Gill: We need to be able to maintain social distance.
Anna Gill: So much of what we do is more than just taking care of the land.
Anna Gill: We're preserving the history of our state.
Anna Gill: And if we lose parks, we lose that.
Anna Gill: We lose a piece of our history.
Anna Gill: We did have a few instances where we had to take action and close day-use areas, Lake Wenatchee State Park and Lake Chelan State Park in Chelan County.
Anna Gill: It's hard to speculate as to what we would do in the future.
Anna Gill: We will continue to do everything we can to keep them safe and keep them open.
Ann Grabler: I love the fact that I get to come smell the woods every day.
Ann Grabler: I love the fact that I get to hear the birds and see the frogs. And I saw a rabbit and I was like, "Man, I think rabbit has no idea that a pandemic’s even happening — like how cool for that rabbit?"
Ann Grabler: You know, and then it's like, well, at some point we’ll all be that rabbit?
Ann Grabler: And I think that's the best thing about nature is this moment to hit pause and just know it'll be OK.
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