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Parks managers say getting outdoors is good for the body and the mind, so long as you do it smartly.

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Henry Hagg Lake in Washington County is open for business, so long as people don't gather and follow posted rules about social distancingWith many Oregonians stuck at home during the coronavirus crises, many are taking advantage of sunny blue skies as a chance to get outside, stretch their legs and breathe in fresh air.

But while national and state parks across Oregon are closed to the public, many local parks remain open, including major attractions such as Blue Lake Park and Henry Hagg Lake in Washington County.

Gov. Kate Brown ordered recreational activities to shutter more than a week ago, including playgrounds, sports facilities and other common sights at local parks. State-run parks were closed indefinitely after a surge of Oregonians visited Oregon beaches in mid-March.

County- and city-run parks haven't been ordered to close, according to Carl Switzer, superintendent of Washington County's parks system. And as long as park visitors follow some strict rules, they plan to stay that way.

"Parks are, I think, essential services," Switzer said. "There are not a lot of places where you are invited to be outside."

Switzer said it's important to give people the opportunity to get outside and enjoy nature. Spending time outdoors can not only be good for your health, he said, but it can help relieve stress levels.

"As a large number of us are working from home or otherwise not able to be in the world, people need places to go," Switzer said.

Switzer said many parks are large enough to allow for adequate social distancing, though most in the Portland area now feature large signage reminding people to keep their distance and follow the state's guidelines.

"We're really hoping the public does their part," Switzer said. "We're happy to have them use the parks, as long as they are maintaining the proper guidelines.We need everybody to participate in this: Keep people safe, keep people alive."

Parks across the state have closed restrooms, play structures and basketball and tennis courts. But park walking paths, hiking trails and bike paths are still open.

"We want people to be able to get out and walk around the park and grab some sunshine," Switzer said.

Howell Territorial Park on Sauvie Island is operated by Metro, the regional government. It, too, is open for business. Metro operates several parks across the Portland area, including Blue Lake Park, Oxbow Park and Cooper Mountain Nature Park.

"We're encouraging visitors to follow social distancing guidelines," said Carrie Belding, a spokeswoman with Metro's Parks and Nature department. "Stand six feet apart, avoid groups. If people can follow those guidelines, it will help us keep these parks open."

Many of the parks Metro operates draw only local visitors, Belding said. But as the weather improves and more and more Oregonians look to get outside and escape the isolation of their homes, park managers said they are prepared to close parks completely, if social distancing can't be maintained.

"So far, that hasn't happened," Belding said. "But we will evaluate that if it were to happen."

But with glimpses of sun amid the usual March rainclouds, Switzer said Scoggins Valley Park, which houses Henry Hagg Lake, has already seen an uptick in attendance in the past few weeks.

"March is typically a quiet month, but there have definitely been more people at the park this month, because of the circumstances we find ourselves in," he said.

Switzer said parks staff are being vigilant, and will keep an eye to ensure everyone follows the rules.

"I think the seriousness of this is being communicated," Switzer said. "People are really taking to heart that social distancing isn't a request. People have to manage it themselves. It is possible that in the future we might find our facilities overwhelmed."

Visitors to local parks are asked to respect the closures of play equipment and other amenities, and to take special precautions while visiting.

"Wash your hands before you come and wash when you leave," Switzer said. "Use hand sanitizer while you're there and refrain as much as possible from touching drinking fountains or hand rails. Better safe than sorry."

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