State parks have been full of visitors amid the pandemic, but can budgets and regulations keep up?

CORBETT, Ore. – The sounds floating down the beach at Rooster Rock State Park were unmistakable and, after months of social distancing, felt almost illicit: the thump of music, the “woo-hoo!” of a crowd.

Was that … a party?

It was. Not just any party but a socially distanced drag show, held outdoors at one of the few state parks with an official clothing-optional beach.

Performer Alexis Campbell Starr of Portland knew that many fellow entertainers saw their income dry up during the coronavirus pandemic as clubs closed or restricted access. She decided it was time for drag queens to return to the stage, even if it was a hot, sandy one at a riverfront state park 25 miles east of the city. Fans – and random beachgoers – got a socially distanced live performance.

“We were like, ‘Let’s just put on a show out there,’ ” Campbell Starr said. “We’ll bring some equipment, we’ll take it out. We’ll make sure people are spaced out, spaced apart from each other. And let’s just shock the hell out of the beach.”

The sanctioned nudity at Oregon’s Rooster Rock and the novelty of an outdoor drag show are no doubt anomalies among state park systems. The crowded parking lot on a hot August day was not. State parks have seen record numbers of visitors this summer as people look for ways to safely get out of their homes for some fun.

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“This is not going to come as a surprise to anybody, but anything that has well-developed access to a river, a stream or a lake has been running much busier than normal,” said Chris Havel, associate director of the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department.

From neighborhood parks to national parks, there’s been a premium on open spaces where people can recreate safely while maintaining distance from those outside their immediate household or quarantine bubble. The crowds demonstrate how desperate people are for the solace of open space after being told to stay inside. Their presence requires extra staff to clean facilities and pick up the trash visitors leave at a time of strained state resources and budgets.

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