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Seeking COVID-19 escape, people crowding Oregon outdoors

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — In the quest to escape amid the coronavirus pandemic, people are flooding Oregon’s beaches, forests and mountains in unprecedented numbers, state and federal officials said.

That’s brought a spike in accidents, garbage, damage and bear activity in recreation areas, The Statesman Journal reported on Monday.

Oregon Parks and Recreation Department spokesman Chris Havel said they’re seeing a level of use well beyond a normal year especially on the Oregon Coast and west of the Cascades.

“It’s like having the crowds you see for a holiday weekend, except all the time,” he said.

More people outdoors is a generally a good thing, especially because the virus doesn’t spread as effectively outdoors, officials said.

But the crowding comes as some sites in the Columbia Gorge remain closed. Eight state parks are still shut, and other campgrounds have reduced capacity.

On the Oregon Coast, getting a campsite at a state park requires booking a month in advance. Few yurts and cabins are available for rental. The City of Bend has outright asked people to stay away through Labor Day because of an increase in virus cases.

“Everything is full: campgrounds are full and all of the good, established, dispersed campsites have also been full,” said Darren Cross, McKenzie River district ranger for Willamette National Forest.

“The problem is, people packed up and drove all the way out here. So what we’re seeing is that people are creating their own new dispersed sites,” he said.

Parking is another concern statewide. Many trailheads and recreation sites are full by early afternoon, leading to illegal parking that could block emergency vehicles.

“The best way to help is to come early, pick less crowded places and make sure to pack out all of your trash,” Havel said. “It’s strange time. Normally, with this level of use, we’d expand capacity at campgrounds and trailheads. But we can’t do that right now.”

A backpacking hiker walks a trail in the Wild Rogue Wilderness Area. (AP file photo by Zach Urness, Salem Statesman){ }