State parks are closed, the marathon’s postponed, but outdoor activities remain

— Created March 25, 2020 by Kathy Reed

By Kacie Jo Voeller

            Each year in mid-April, hundreds of participants run the Deception Pass Bridge as part of the Whidbey Island Marathon. This year, with the unprecedented effects of COVID-19 in Washington state and beyond, the race has been postponed to a “to-be-determined” later date. 

In the wake of Whidbey Island taking community action to “flatten the curve” through social distancing, postponed and/or cancelled events, several area businesses have come through to offer resources and safe methods for staying active.

Jared Loranger, owner of Fizz Events, said the decision to postpone the Whidbey Island Marathon was a difficult one, but was the most appropriate action to keep all participants safe. He said updates will be available via email for those who have already registered, as well as through the event’s Facebook page ( for those who may not have signed up yet. 

“The absolute last thing any of us want to do is cancel or postpone a race,” he said. “We know this is a disappointment for all participants. We know how hard you’ve worked to meet your fitness goals. When a race is cancelled, we are the most disappointed that participants have been let down.”

Loranger said he understands the frustration of runners, but asks participants to keep safety in mind and encourages everyone to continue to stay active while using safe social distancing practices. 

“I’m a runner and I enjoy getting to other event producers’ races and participating,” he said. “I’ve had a few I’ve signed up for get postponed or cancelled as well. It happens, but we have to remember, this is happening for the safety of all participants, not because we want to. With that, I try to remember that my fitness goals are personal. If I’m not able to join others at the start line, that is okay, I can still accomplish my goals. I know I can still go outside and run, ride my bike and enjoy the fresh air. Stay positive and keep training, races will come back, and when they do, sign up, participate and have a great time!”

            In the wake of event cancellations, postponements, and gym closures, Celese Stevens, owner of Thrive Oak Harbor, said organizations are finding ways to offer fitness to the community from afar. She said Les Mills, which helps Thrive provide group fitness classes such as Bodypump, offers at-home workouts through Les Mills On Demand. The service has a 14-day free trial, and for Thrive members, a reduced subscription as the current outbreak affects the nation. Stevens said members will also have free access to workouts from Eat the Frog On the Go.

            “In general, there are so many choices, even just between those two options and especially the fact that you can get access through your phone or iPad,” she said. “It depends on where and how you want to use it, but literally you can do that from anywhere you have some kind of internet access.”

            Stevens said one of the goals at Thrive is to continually empower people to stay active, whether the gym’s doors are open or closed.

“We encourage people to reach new goals,” she said. “If we did one thing at Thrive, that is it, we encourage. And it is at times like this that we just want to encourage people that we will get back to ‘normal,’ we will return to even some of those common things and being able to interact within our community.”

Stevens said the gym has also encouraged those in the community to get outside and enjoy the outdoor spaces the island has to offer while following safety guidelines.

“We have definitely encouraged people to hike, be in the fresh air and sunshine as much as they are able,” she said. “There is so much hiking nearby, and my first piece of advice would be just get outside and do something fun.”

Late Tuesday afternoon, Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission and the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife announced all state-managed parks, wildlife areas and water access areas will be closed temporarily in response to Gov. Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order. Parks shut down Wednesday and will remain closed for at least two weeks to combat the spread of COVID-19.

Chris Holm, area manager for Washington State Parks on Whidbey Island, said getting outside is not only physically beneficial, but also offers benefits for mental health.

“Speaking personally, I think getting out and getting exercise or just walking around and getting the fresh air does great wonders for your mental state as well,” he said.

Under Inslee’s stay-at-home order, outdoor activities such as going for walks, gardening and riding bikes, for example, are allowed, as long as people maintain a six-foot distance from one another.

 But Whidbey Island has a number of places beyond our now-closed state parks to try for a peaceful walk in nature. Frank Simpson, executive director of Meerkerk Gardens in Greenbank, said the 53-acre area remains open each day from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. for $5 per person, with 16 and under being able to visit for free.

            “There is a lot to see in the entry garden itself,” he said. “It has access to the gazebo area where we have a terrific view of the Saratoga Passage, which is a favorite place for people to come.”

Simpson said while the gardens highlight rhododendrons, which have begun to bloom, the area also offers more than four miles of trails varying in difficulty, with space to practice social distancing.

“It (the garden) provides a place for visitors to come and enjoy a woodland garden featuring rhododendrons, but we also have great trails and other features that make it a nice place to visit,” he said.

For more information on Meerkerk Gardens and a list of plants currently in bloom, visit