As the weather warms up, we all feel the pull to go outside more. For some that means heading out to the high desert, into the mountains, or onto one of our many amazing rivers. You may have heard that many of the public lands around the state have been closed to reduce exposure between employees and visitors. Unfortunately, campgrounds, day-use facilities, bathrooms, and many parks are hard to manage in a way that allows for social distancing.
I am happy to say that, for now, you are still able to access and recreate on most Bureau of Land Management (BLM) managed public lands in Central Oregon. The Department of Interior and BLM are working to ensure the safety of employees, volunteers and visitors to public lands during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. To the greatest extent possible, we are working to maintain services to the American people and our stakeholders, consistent with evolving guidance and direction at the local, state, and national level.
As stated above, given the challenges of managing social distancing and protecting employees, some closures have had to occur. In conjunction with our local, state, tribal, and federal partners, the Lower Deschutes and John Day Rivers are closed to boating. Boat launches and bathroom facilities along these rivers are closed. The developed campgrounds along the rivers are closed for overnight use; however, most remain open for day-use activities such as hiking, picnicking, fishing, and sightseeing. Some sites, such as Priest Hole on the John Day River, are closed to all use. The closures support our Governor's Order, CDC guidelines, and many local communities.
Outside of our river corridors, all developed campgrounds and public bathroom facilities on BLM-managed public lands are closed; however, most of the sites remain open for day-use activities as well. Our trails and trailheads remain open, and we allow for dispersed recreation. I know it can be confusing to distinguish between different agencies, so I encourage you to call the office if you have any questions about what is closed and what is open.
We understand it is difficult to not be able to use some of your favorite public land sites during the current situation. The BLM understands the importance of this, which is why we are keeping our public lands open to provide the American people with places to get outdoors. It is critical that we continue to use social distancing, even when recreating outside.
We encourage all visitors to follow CDC, state, and locally recommended steps to protect themselves and others from COVID-19. These steps include washing your hands often, maintaining a distance of at least six feet from others, covering coughs and sneezes, and carrying hand sanitizer for when hand washing isn't possible. Consider steps such as taking separate vehicles to a trailhead, waiting in your car at the trailhead if other users are in the parking lot or at a map or information kiosk, and stepping aside to allow other visitors to pass you safely on a trail. Please pick a different spot to recreate if your first choice appears crowded. Most importantly, if you feel sick with flu-like symptoms (e.g., fever, cough, shortness of breath), stay home!
If the current social distancing protocols for public and employee safety remain in place into summer, we are taking steps to ensure the highest degree of readiness for wildfire season. The safety of the public and all wildland fire responders is always our number one priority. We are working with our partners to develop plans that will protect our first responders as much as possible while ensuring that all wildland firefighting personnel are trained, qualified and prepared for fire activity and will be ready to respond even during a COVID-19 outbreak.
I appreciate your patience as we work through our processes in these unprecedented times. We are taking all steps possible to reduce exposure and curb transmission in facilities, offices and public lands under our management. I understand that this situation continues to evolve. The staff at the Prineville District are committed to providing you with regular updates and the best service possible.
Jeff Kitchens is the acting Prineville BLM District Manager. He can be reached at 541-416-6700.
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