On an afternoon when a brisk northerly drove the wind chill down into the 30s, five Bainbridge high schoolers made it look like summer on the Fay Bainbridge Park sand volleyball court.

While everyone else was bundled against the cold, the sun was out – so of course the hardy teens were practicing their digs, sets and spikes in shorts.

What brought them out despite the biting conditions?

“A love of volleyball,” said Skyla Tomine, one of three BHS players on the court.

Added Ava Targett: “A need to get outside and get some fresh air. Being quarantined in our house is just not a good thing.”

As cafes, theatres and other civic spaces around the island shut down one by one to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus, islanders have found solace and sanctuary in the great outdoors – distancing socially, connecting naturally.

The Bainbridge Island Metro Park & Recreation District has suspended programs and closed indoor facilities as the pandemic plays out, but parks and trails remain open and inviting.

“We encourage folks to use the parks in a responsible way, under the current recommendations for social distancing,  and practicing good hygiene,” said Dan Hamlin, Park Services Division Director for the Park District. “Be mindful of those around you, keep the recommended distance from others and avoid large groups of people.  We have plenty of parks so if one seems crowded, you can always go to another.”

In announcing program closures, the Park District pointed instead to any number of outdoor activities where “social distancing” is already the norm: walks and runs around the park system’s extensive trails network like the Grand Forest and Hawley Cove, bike rides to and from parks or on the Battle Point Park pump track, and kayaking from Hidden Cove, Williams-Olson and Blakely Harbor parks. The Strawberry Hill dog park remains open.

Islanders are not alone in heading outside for relief from the tedium and uncertainty of self-isolation, and the National Association of Recreation and Parks has issued guidelines for safe use of parks and trails.

Directives from the Center for Disease Control and local public health officials evolve with the pandemic, but the NARP offered some general tips for managing personal and social risk while enjoying public outdoors spaces.

  • Follow the CDC’s guidance on personal hygiene prior to heading to trails — wash hands, carry hand sanitizer, do not use trails if you have symptoms, cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing.
  • Always observe the CDC’s minimum recommended social distancing of six feet from other people. Practice distancing and know what it looks like. Maintain distance as you walk, bike or hike and encounter others along the trail.
  • Warn other trail users of your presence and as you pass to allow proper distance and step off trails to allow others to pass, always keeping minimum recommended distances. Signal your presence with your voice, bell or horn.

With their abundance of natural elbow room, parks and trails remain good outlets to promote both physical and mental health. For some, that meant vigorous volleyball and badminton on the Fay Bainbridge sand court, or quiet strolls along the shoreline.

Ellen Donbeck and Avian Kehoe walked the Fay Bainbridge sands, then pulled up a log to chat and enjoy the view. A few sailboats glided north into Port Madison Bay, while a solitary tug chugged along toward south sound. Gulls dipped and dived along the surf.

“It’s a good place to connect with nature, to breathe a little,” Donbeck said of the popular north-end park.

“You can only spend so much time in your living room,” Kehoe added.

Farther down the beach, Betsy Carlson, a Woodward Middle School social studies teacher, reclined in a beach chair under the sun and read a young-adult fiction title popular with her students. Carlson visits the park often, sometimes to walk, but always to read.

“I can’t read in my own house, there’s too much to do,” she said.

Other popular activities on the afternoon: picnics at the Fay Bainbridge shelter, making a dance video on the beach, a game of catch with the ball and glove, or just pausing to contempate the view. The new “pirate ship” play structure was at times swarming with young adventurers.

Amy Barlet and her family brought a kite. She could see coming to the park more often as other family options are lost the near term, even if the current health crisis wasn’t top of mind that afternoon.

“Not too much, but we probably will [come to the park] more in light of that. It seems like being outdoors is a way better alternative than staying inside,” she said.

“But it always is, that’s the thing. We prefer to do things outside anyway.”

The Bainbridge Island Metro Park & Recreation District is updating information on COVID-19 impacts on local park and recreation programs and facilities at www.biparks.org. More general guidelines on park and trail use can be found at www.nrpa.org.