Snapshot

Despite a packed Harris Beach State Park the week before it was closed due to COVID-19, the author only came within 20 feet of one person on the beach, a photographer who came up and asked to take his photo using a Polaroid-style camera, which was then gifted to the author.

SALEM — In the past week, Oregon reopened fishing to nonresidents and began allowing access to certain state parks, boat ramps and beaches. In a stunning twist of fate absolutely no one saw coming, the world didn’t end.

Out of state

The closures were intended to limit travel, encourage people to stay home (or at least close to home) and limit social gatherings.

The closure for out-of-state anglers wasn’t a bad move. Understandably frustrating for folks in border towns like Vancouver, sure, but it was justifiable. It kept folks from states with much higher infection rates from spreading the novel coronavirus to Oregonians. It was a novel idea for a novel virus. Novel, of course, meaning never before documented as affecting humans. At least in my lifetime, Oregon has never before banned out-of-state anglers wholesale, but it was the most reasonable emergency ruling affecting our sport.

Access

Despite the glamorous Instagram accounts depicting smiling anglers wading through pristine streams making perfect roll casts as their posse looks on, most anglers fish alone or in small groups. The 2017 Special Report on Fishing found that the average fishing trip nationwide included 2.8 adults.

Given that the success of a fishing trip is indirectly proportional to how many people are fishing the same water, anglers tend to self-isolate automatically. In almost any context except the shoulder-to-shoulder salmon fisheries west of the Cascades, social distancing is measured in yards or miles for anglers — not feet.

Surfcasting, trolling, flyfishing and drifting are all popular forms of fishing that require ample space. Most anglers will intentionally create as much space as possible when fishing to avoid giving away secrets, to find unpressured fish or simply to appreciate the purity of fishing in absolute solitude.

So closing places like boat ramps, while well-intentioned, was not well thought-out.

Density

Now, closing a remote boat ramp or beach access with limited parking is one thing, but a highly popular state park is certainly another, right?

According to The Oregonian, Oregon’s fifth-most popular state park, Silver Falls, saw more than 1.2 million visitors in 2019 while the Beaver State’s second-most popular park, Harris Beach, boasted more than 1.5 million visitors last year. That’s noteworthy.

I was at Harris Beach just days before it closed, and the park was so full, I had to park about a mile from the beach and then walk down. It was just March, and it only gets busier.

Let’s do some math. For the sake of simplicity, let’s use round numbers.

If 1.5 million people visited Harris Beach in 2019, that’s about 8,500 people per day. At about 175 acres, that breaks down to about 50 people per acre.

An acre is about 50,000 square feet.

Home Depot’s corporate site says the average store is about 100,000 square feet, or about two acres. I called and asked Home Depot what their current customer capacity was. The gentleman I spoke with told me it was 150 as of Tuesday.

Math isn’t my strong suit, but I had to wait in line for 20 minutes just to get inside the packed store last weekend, which means there were 150 people in that two-acre space (75 per acre), compared to 50 per acre at Harris Beach.

Now, unlike Harris Beach, Home Depot is not an open air, circulating environment. At the state park, there are few shared hard surfaces like shopping carts or registers. Apart from the bathroom, there are no lines forcing people to breath the same air and stand in close proximity at Harris Beach like they would at the store.

Now, I don’t have anything against Home Depot. I love it. I’ve spent thousands of dollars there since I bought my house, and I’m glad they’re open. But one of the justifications for keeping parks closed is human density within a given area. Doing the math, human density at Home Depot is higher than it would be at one of our most packed state parks, so maybe human density is the reason for state park closures, after all? Just not the type of human density involving people per acre.

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