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Public lands open-up just in time for Memorial Day weekend

BLM developed campgrounds open today

By Patrick Flaherty

Memorial Day weekend typically brings out boaters, fishers, campers, bikers, and hikers with full force in the traditional summer kick off. That would be a typical Memorial Day weekend. However with COVID still among us, “typical” will not be in the cards this year.

The National Park Service (NPS) opened recreation to John Day Fossil Beds National Monument with some caveats on May 15. And the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will open the main stem of the John Day River to boating and recreation beginning May 21st and their developed campgrounds and bathroom facilities will be open as well.

Patrick Gamman, superintendent of John Day Fossil Beds says, “There is a good chance that we could get a lot of visitors on Memorial Day weekend. That is traditionally our busiest weekend of the year. So, we are preparing for a busy holiday weekend.” The park did see a steady string of traffic for Saturday the 16th but numbers were not high.

Gamman does caution people coming to the park to bring their own water, “we are not turning on the water fountains because they could be a place for Covid-19 to spread.” For improved employee and visitor safety the NPS has joined with other organizations like Oregon State Parks in the #recreateresponsibly campaign.

Gamman also states, “As for Covid-19 safety, we are happy to see visitors keeping their distance from each other, traveling in small family groups, and bringing their own food and water.”

The Thomas Condon Visitor Center will remained closed to prevent the close quarters spread of COVID, but all hiking trails, bathroom facilities and picnic areas will be open to the public.

Lisa Clark, public affairs specialist for the BLM says, “We’ve been able to work with our partner agencies to come up with a plan to get boaters back out on the water. Fortunately, the John Day River has limited entry and permits are required to float or boat, so we don’t expect large numbers. Our goal with the John Day is to both maintain the primitive experience for our visitors and protect the outstanding values that make it Wild and Scenic.”

All launches and take-outs for the John Day River will be open beginning May 21. Trip leaders holding permits to launch May 21 and later will be able to run their trips. Group size will be limited to 16, or the lowest group size suggested by local, state or county guidelines, whichever number is fewer. Boating groups may not combine at any time if this number would be exceeded. The second batch of permits for the John Day River due to be released May 1 has been postponed; at this point, the BLM does not know when that next release will actually happen.

For boaters planning to camp before or after your trip, BLM developed campgrounds will be open beginning May 21, and will allow a maximum of 8 people per campsite. Also, dispersed camping is allowed on BLM lands as long as you follow Leave No Trace practices. The popular Priest Hole Recreation Area near Mitchell is now open where visitors can combine a river experience with a visit to Painted Hills.


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