Local parks provide outlet for East Multnomah County residents to shake off social-distance blues

PMG PHOTO: SHANNON O. WELLS - Hunter Walters, left, tosses a basketball with her grandmother, Kim Swan, on Wednesday morning, March 25, at Fairview Community Park across from City Hall, which is closed because of the coronavirus crisis. School was canceled last week for Walters, 7, and Swan has been working her Portland-based job from home.  Gresham resident Jim Card's favorite part of spring is seeing the cherry trees blossom.

Across East Multnomah County, from Corbett to Gresham, the onset of pleasant spring weather has spurred hundreds of pink flowers to bloom.

And going out to see them has become one of Card's favorite parts of the day.

"People forget the healing power of going out for a walk in the park," he said.

His desire to get out into nature is a sentiment shared by many other community members, even as the spread of COVID-19 and the stay-at-home order has shuttered gyms, state parks, playgrounds, sports complexes, businesses, and more.

While avoiding contact with others is key to slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus, Gov. Kate Brown's executive order, announced Monday morning, March 23, doesn't stop residents from getting outside for some fresh air.

City leadership is encouraging people to go out and take a stroll around the block; read a book in their local park; ride their bike through the neighborhood; or jog along the Springwater Corridor Trail.

"Outdoor exercise is, of course, still permitted, so long as you can keep a safe distance from other people," said Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis, who was among many local mayors to encourage and support the governor's stay-at-home order.

To avoid spreading coronavirus, people must maintain a 6-foot radius from each other and continue practicing smart habits including coughing or sneezing into elbows, washing hands and using sanitizer frequently. PMG PHOTO: TIFFANEY ODELL - Cherry trees are in full-blossom mode outside of East Hill Church in downtown Gresham.

Anyone feeling unwell should stay inside.

"Stay at home as much as possible and avoid unnecessary physical contact with people outside of your homes," Bemis said. "We are all in this together."

Health experts stress the importance of making a concerted effort to be physically active, because the shutdown measures are removing natural activity from the daily routine. Make a plan each day and stick to it.

Fairview resident Kim Swan is taking that direction to heart. On Wednesday morning, March 25, she took a break from working at home to toss a basketball around with her 7-year-old grandson, Hunter Walters, at Fairview Community Park across from the shuttered City Hall.

"I'm trying to take care of myself and take breaks, because I'm working from home," she said, explaining her direction to Hunter. "It's like, 'All right, I get a break at 10 (a.m.), what do you want to do?' This is what we want to do."PMG PHOTO: SHANNON O. WELLS - Playground equipment at Glenn Otto Community Park in Troutdale is taped off with a sign indicating the temporary closure of the structure following orders from Oregon Gov. Kate Brown to encourage social distancing amid the coronavirus crisis.

Swan, who works for a Southwest Portland-based primary care house-call service, started working from home last week, around the same Hunter's school was canceled.

"It's kind of different for all of us. He lost his school structure, and I lost my office," Swan said. "(But) every day we've got to get up and make this the new normal — for now."

Community members are also continuing to volunteer to maintain greenspaces, even as official work parties are being canceled in compliance with state directives.

Card, who helms the Tsuru Island Japanese Garden in Gresham, said people are reaching out individually to help weed, and clean up graffiti and vandalism. He is able to coordinate with them so there are never too many people that would make social distancing difficult.

"A lot of people want to keep volunteering," Card said.

As he has been tending plants in the newly constructed greenhouse in Main City Park, which will eventually produce hanging flower baskets in the park, Card said many more people have come by to visit. Even on the gloomy days where rain normally would keep visitors away, citizens seem starved for an outdoor adventure.

"It's great to see so many people getting outside and doing something active," he said.

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - Many joggers and cyclists have been recreating along the Springwater Corridor Trail.

PMG PHOTO: SHANNON O. WELLS  - A simulated rock structure at the Imagination Station playground near Reynolds High School in Troutdale is taped off to keep children from touching the surfaces in an effort to curtail the spread of coronavirus.

MG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - The Tsuru Island Japanese Garden remains open to visitors.

PMG PHOTO: SHANNON O. WELLS  - Rhododendrons at Imagination Station are among the flora and fauna bursting out as spring beauty helps divert attention from the life-changing effects of the coronavirus crisis.

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