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Jackson County parks start to reopen Friday

Camping in Jackson County parks will resume Friday, but because of persistent risks from COVID-19, the parks will have many restrictions, including the continued closure of day-use areas such as playgrounds, picnic shelters and water parks that attract crowds.

The Emigrant Lake waterslide will remain closed for the entire summer, said Steve Lambert, parks program manager, because of the cost and the small number of days it could be open under pandemic conditions.

However, the rest of Emigrant Lake County Park — for picnics, swimming, boating, fishing and RV camping — will reopen Friday. Tent camping will resume May 21.

Howard Prairie Lake Resort is suffering from “the one-two punch” of both drought and virus, and will not open its four boat ramps — which are above waterline — or restaurants this year.

Many people are staying home, reducing the revenue it takes to operate Howard Prairie, he said, leading to continued closure of Grizzly Creek, Willow Point, Plum Landing and Sugar Pine campgrounds.

In response to rules from the Oregon Health Authority, county parks will enforce social distancing and prohibit any gathering larger than 10 people, said Lambert.

County park rangers are “code enforcers” and will be present to clean restrooms and other tasks, he said, and will “remind folks of the rules and social distancing, but we’ll rely on park users to comply with rules as much as possible. We don’t want to get into enforcement mode. We’ll do that from time to time, but if people want to keep parks open, they will have to comply with the rules.”

To support distancing, Emigrant Lake and other parks with large day-use areas will have to limit the number of cars, said Lambert.

“It’s normal for people to flock there on a hot weekend day, but every parking space will be full, and people will be parking on the entrance road. That will be way too many people for social distancing, so we’ll limit it to 75 percent of the parking spaces. If you’re going, we advise get there early and bring all you need. If you try to go back into town to get stuff, you may not get back in.”

As an alternative, Lambert suggested relaxing at parks in early evening, when it’s still warm, or on workdays.

During the pandemic, county parks staffers face an entirely new challenge in having to shut down the whole system and reopen it under an “entirely new set of rules, a whole different ball game,” said Lambert. In addition, the system had “taken a very large financial hit and fought hard to get parks open.”

The parks department has brought some employees back, enough to “open the majority of facilities, and we will see how visitorship goes. If we need to hire more, we will. We wanted to start at the low end.”

Under the new regimen, campers are asked to make reservations 24 hours in advance, via credit card on the phone or internet, allowing email confirmations and notices of changes. This way, the usual $8 reservation fee will be waived.

A detailed schedule of opening dates is at https://jacksoncountyor.org/parks/General/News-Events/jackson-county-parks-announces-plan-to-reopen.

Camping will start up at Jackson County parks Friday, including at Emigrant Lake pictured in this 2019 Mail Tribune / Ashland Tidings file photo.