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How to Stay Safe Playing Outside: Guidelines for Seattle-Area Families

What to do when venturing outdoors to parks and greenspaces with kids

Nancy Chaney

Published on: May 05, 2020


If your family is like mine, we are very excited to have more places to go outside to play, run and breathe fresh air. Many state parks and public lands are opening today, after more than a month of closures. Most municipalities around Seattle have kept their parks open, though playground equipment, sports fields, picnic shelters, restrooms and other facilities remain closed. Some parking lots at popular parks are closed as well, to discourage crowds, though the parks themselves are open.

From the start of “Stay Home, Stay Healthy,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has assured us that Washington families can go outside. But as more parks and greenspaces open and the weather warms up, we need to be super smart about it. As the signs around Seattle parks warn us: “Crowded parks lead to closed parks.”

I, for one, really want us to get this right. We've combed through public health sources and compiled guidelines here for Washington families to follow when venturing outdoors. If we can follow these instructions, we'll see more and more spaces opening up. We can do it!

  • Wear your masks (everyone over age 2) when you can't maintain a minimum of six feet of distance between your family and other families recreating outdoors.
  • Visit parks and greenspaces with only your immediate household.
  • Practice physical distancing if you encounter others; ensure a minimum of six feet of space between you and other park users. (And hey, a smile and a wave go a long way in this challenging time.)
  • If anyone in your family is showing symptoms of illness, even a sniffle, you must stay home.
  • Choose a park or greenspace near your home; don't plan an epic day trip to a far-off spot.
  • State parks and public lands are open for day use; some camping has opened up as of June 1.
  • Confirm beforehand that the place you want to go is open; if you find a crowd when you arrive, do not stay. (Consider having a nearby “plan B” destination in mind that you've also checked for open status.)
  • Consider visiting a park on a weekday, early in the morning or late in the afternoon when you're less likely to encounter lots of other visitors.
  • Choose parks that have wide-open spaces or recreate on newly-opened "play streets"; narrow hiking trails make it too tricky to stay six feet apart from others.
  • Practice self-sufficiency: Bring your own lunch, snacks, water, hand sanitizer and masks. Bring a jug of water, soap and paper towels to wash hands if you prefer washing to sanitizer.
  • Keep in mind that facilities, including restrooms, may be closed. Consider bringing along a five-gallon bucket (you can even get a seat for it!) and a roll of TP for potty breaks.
  • Pack out any trash or recycling you create.
  • Remember that any type of gathering, public event, party, sports match or pick-up game is still not allowed. (If we do this right, those will be back soon!)
  • Fishing and boating are allowed only with your immediate family.

Let's enjoy our parks and the beauty of the Pacific Northwest, while being smart about how we do it. If we play our cards right here, we'll keep ourselves, our families and our communities healthy and alive — and more places will open up.

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