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Surge in visitors to Riverside State Park during pandemic poses problems

Visits to Riverside State Park are up to 45 to 60% compared to August 2019, according to Washington State Parks and Recreation.
Credit: Megan Carroll

SPOKANE, Wash. — With more people heading outdoors this summer, illegal parking and damage to ecosystems have become issues at Riverside State Park. 

A spokesperson for Washington State Parks and Recreation said use of public lands has "increased exponentially" since Gov. Jay Inslee put COVID-19 restrictions in place. Riverside State Park in particular has experienced high numbers of visitors. 

Visits to Riverside are up to 45 to 60% compared to August 2019, with most visitors from the local area, according to the state. 

Park staff have reported seeing large numbers of dogs off leash, dangerous levels of speeding on shared use roads, illegal parking and damage to fragile ecosystems, the state said. 

Rangers and park staff are asking visitors to drive the speed limit on all roads, avoid parking illegally and stick to designated parking spots. All cars parked for day use must also have a valid Discover Pass displayed in their windshield. 

RELATED: Park legally at Oregon, Washington recreation areas or get towed

Dogs must always be leashed and are not allowed in natural areas, such as Little Spokane River Natural Area. 

The state said Little Spokane River Natural Area is also experiencing abnormally high traffic, including the use of illegal watercraft. 

Plastic pool rafts and inner tubes are not allowed, as they can tear on shallow logs or branches. This endangers people floating on the river and the conservation area itself. 

Park staff are also reminding visitors that alcohol is prohibited on the Little Spokane River from St. George’s to Hwy 291 Take-Out, and park staff may close the parking lot gates due to overcrowding.

Area Manager Diana Dupuis urges paddlers to stay in their boats, and said swimming and beaching are not allowed in the Little Spokane River.

“The primary mission of the Little Spokane is not recreation, but conservation,” Dupis said. 

Dupuis said rangers will be writing tickets for infractions listed above, but encourages people to inform themselves about how to treat the outdoors.

“We want people to recreate responsibly: to be safe, respect the park and follow the rules,” she said.

RELATED: Washington residents flock to crowded North Idaho boat launches during pandemic