As state campgrounds prepare to open, officials urge caution and common sense
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As state campgrounds prepare to open, officials urge caution and common sense

On a normal year, spring temperatures in the 70s would inspire people to want to go outside. And this is not a normal year.

We’ve been cooped up in our homes, neighborhoods and towns for more than a month, following a winter with above average snowfall in many places. Most of us live in Wyoming because of the outdoor recreation offered in our mountains, prairies, rivers and lakes, especially in spring, summer and fall.

So how do we get outside safely during a global pandemic? Can we camp? Use trails? Meet friends or family from out of state?

Gov. Mark Gordon and top state officials said Thursday afternoon they understand those strong desires to get outside, then announced new rules to make sure Wyomingites can enjoy the state’s wild spaces while also curbing spread of the novel coronavirus.

“This is your responsibility, your time to shine to make sure the ground is not lost,” Gordon said in a press conference. “Just do the right thing in a steady fashion.”

What does that mean for those of us itching to go outside for more than a stroll around the block?

We broke down new and unfolding regulations on camping and other outdoor recreation in the time of COVID-19.

Yes, you can go camping, mostly. But plan ahead.Wyoming’s state parks will open to camping on May 15. State Parks and Cultural Resources director Darin Westby said he would like to have opened earlier, but he feared hiring large numbers of seasonal workers then laying them off soon after if it became clear camping wouldn’t be allowed.

Camping won’t, however, be available in state parks to nonresidents, and available campsites will be spread out to ensure social distancing.

“We don’t want to happen what happened earlier. We were the only campgrounds open in the region and we were getting inundated with out of state visitors,” Gordon said. State officials will continue monitoring surrounding states as the spring progresses.

Because state park camping is limited to residents, campsites must all be reserved in advance. No state park will allow walk-up reservations.

The temporary regulation change is to ensure only residents are using campsites, provide assurances to campers that a site is available when they arrive, and limit the exchange of cash between park personnel and visitors, Westby said.

Bathrooms will be opened, but shower houses, playgrounds, group shelters and group campsites will remain closed. Yurts and cabins will be available for three-day reservations from Friday to Sunday to allow park staff to clean and disinfect in between reservations.

Developed campgrounds in national forests, however, are largely still closed across the state. Campgrounds in the Bridger-Teton National Forest will open by May 31, weather dependent, said forest spokesperson Mary Cernicek. Developed sites in the Medicine Bow-Routt, Bighorn, Shoshone and Black Hills national forests will also be closed until May 31, though plans do not specify when they will open after May 31.

Dispersed camping, hiking, boating and other recreation has been allowed and will continue to be allowed in all of Wyoming’s national forests. Campfires, however, are not permitted.

Camping at Grayrocks Reservoir, Wheatland No. 1 and Cottonwood Draw Wildlife Habitat Management Area in Platte County is still closed, though day use is allowed.

Hunting, fishing and antler shed collection continues (mostly) as normal.Wyoming residents have been allowed to hunt and fish as normal throughout the pandemic, and nothing has changed, said Brian Nesvik, director of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. But nonresidents are still not allowed to buy day or five-day fishing licenses.

Shed antler hunting seasons opened Friday and will continue as normal. However, the governor did extend his order asking all nonresidents to self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival in Wyoming until May 8.

Fisheries officials are still concerned about boats bringing aquatic invasive species such as zebra or quagga mussels to Wyoming, and boats are required to stop at Game and Fish check stations for inspections.

Going outside is a good idea, but yes, you still need to take precautions.If you’re going camping with your family, and you aren’t near anyone else, it’s the same as being at home, said Dr. Mark Dowell, a specialist with Rocky Mountain Infectious Disease and a Natrona County health officer. But if you’re with anyone else, you must stay at least 6 feet or more apart.

If you’re fishing with a guide, both you and the guide need to wear masks or other face coverings.

Whether hiking, fishing, camping or mountain bike riding, stay at least 6 feet away from anyone not living in your house. Disinfect your hands with sanitizer gel often. If you arrive at a trailhead or fishing access and it’s crowded, go somewhere else.

Lastly, the governor continued his order to prohibit more than 10 people from gathering in one place.

“This is not party time,” Dowell said. “The virus is still in the community. If you don’t take precautions and we see an uptick in cases because you’re not doing what you’re supposed to be doing, we will have to shut things down again, and that will be bad.”

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