Irene Rinehart Riverfront Park reopens

Depends on county remaining in Phase 3 to avoid another closure


Kassidy Malcom

The Irene Rinehart Riverfront Park is open from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days per week.

Jamie Wyatt, Staff Reporter

On Friday, April 2, Irene Rinehart Riverfront Park reopened to the public after being closed for the last nine months. The original closure was done at the behest of  Kittitas County’s Public Health Officer Dr. Mark Larson. Larson has been working in conjunction with Ellensburg Parks and Recreation in order to safely re-open Ellensburg’s parks. 

Irene Rinehart Riverfront Park is a 117 acre park along the Yakima River with 2.2 miles of trails. The park hosts a large play area, volleyball court, picnic shelter with barbecue grills and spots for swimming and fishing. The park is also close to Yakima Canyon with nearby Umtanum Ridge Crest or Umtanum Canyon Creek to explore as well. 

The Irene Rinehart Riverfront Park is open from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days per week. (Kassidy Malcom)

The coronavirus case numbers are no better than when the park initially closed. The initial closure of the park was due to an uptick in coronavirus cases. Larson emphasized important differences. 

“We moved into Phase 3 of the reopening at that time, which was different than our current Phase 3 guidelines … allowed people to get together with 50 or more people outside,” Larson said.

One of the biggest reasons for the uptick in coronavirus cases last spring was due to the influx of members outside of the community. During the time of the initial closure Larson emphasized key differences. 

“We were having people come up from Yakima to recreate at Irene Rinehart Park because everything was closed in Yakima. We had no ability to help people understand how to maintain social distancing as our numbers were starting to go up into our second outbreak,” Larson said. 

Kassidy Malcom

The most important difference now, is that all of Washington State’s counties are ready for Phase 3. 

When asked how he felt about Irene Rinehart Park’s reopening, Larson discussed his concerns. 

“I’m cautiously optimistic but anxious that we are going to have another surge and we’ll have to walk back out of Phase 3 back to Phase 2,” Larson said. “I think it should be done … but Ellensburg Parks and Rec have really done a good job of helping people to understand that despite the fact that we have a vaccine, we do still have a problem.”  

The most important thing for community members to remember is to follow guidelines to keep fellow community members safe. Larson said that even though the vaccine is becoming more available and the weather’s getting warmer, there are still guidelines the public needs to follow for the benefit of the community. 

“It’s safe outside than it is inside,” Larson said. “We should still be wearing masks and staying with our own personal family bubbles … it shouldn’t be three families going together.” 

Another concern with the vaccine becoming available is people assuming it means that wearing masks and social distancing are no longer an issue, but Larson addressed this issue too. 

“We really need another three to six weeks and we’ll have enough people vaccinated … but if we don’t do those things … we get rolled back,” Larson said.

The Irene Rinehart Riverfront Park includes picnic areas, walking trails and swimming areas. (Kassidy Malcom)

So while Larson is feeling ‘cautiously optimistic’ about the park’s reopening, he said he has the community’s best interests in mind when making decisions with Ellensburg Parks & Recreation. 

Brad Case, director at Ellensburg’s Parks & Recreation, echoed many of Larson’s concerns for the community. 

“We are in close communication with Dr. Larson to make sure that he’s aware … [and] approves of it and if there’s anything he’s concerned about to try and address some of those concerns up front. Dr. Larson has been a wonderful partner [to Parks & Recreation] … but he understands the importance of recreation,” Case said.

Case and Larson have been working in conjunction to ensure that Phase 3 guidelines are met to avoid an increase in coronavirus cases and to avoid closing the park again. 

Case was quick to point out that much of what students can do, they are already doing. 

“I live up near campus and I see students mask in their cars, masking [up] outside, Case said. “I mean they’re doing a wonderful job of masking and it’s great to see.” 

Emma Rawls, a safety & health management major, played volleyball while visiting the park prior to the coronavirus pandemic. 

“I would definitely be masking and social distancing if I were to visit,” Rawls said. 

Students are urged to mask up and social distance as they begin to venture out this season into the community.