Immediate closure of Pass Lake: Danger for toxic blue green algae exposure at Pass Lake, Deception Pass State Park

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August 17, 2021

Users of Deception Pass State Park should be aware that Pass Lake in the Skagit County portion of the park is closed until further notice due to high Anatoxin-a levels. Water samples tested this week detected concentrations of Anatoxin-a in exceedance of the state recreational guidelines.

The preliminary result from the King County Environmental Lab is 2,576 micrograms per liter of anatoxin-a present in the water sample taken from Pass Lake. According to the Washington State Department of Health, the level of public health concern for anatoxin-a is 1 microgram per liter. 

Anatoxin-a is an acute neurotoxin that can be harmful to humans and animals. Even short-term exposure is a concern. Signs of Neurotoxin Poisoning appear within 15-20 minutes of ingestion, and may include:

  • In people: numbness of the lips, tingling in fingers and toes, and dizziness.
  • In animals: weakness, staggering, difficulty breathing, convulsions, and death.

Until further testing confirms the toxin levels are back within state recreational guidelines, red “Danger” signs will be posted at the lake advising individuals to keep out of the lake, do not swim, drink lake water, fish, recreate, or allow pets or animals to access the lake.

The toxicity of each bloom can vary and is difficult to predict. Toxicity can change from one day to the next. It isn’t possible to determine how dangerous a bloom is to people and animals by looking at it. Only testing can tell if it is dangerous. Pass Lake will be continuously monitored until the levels drop below recommended guidelines.

The public is encouraged to take the following precautions when choosing a body of water for recreation:

  • Look for signs of toxic algae blooms and pay attention to signage. When in doubt, stay out!
  • Do not swim in, and limit exposure to water that is under a health advisory or is listed as having a toxic algae bloom on the Washington State Department of Ecology toxic algae tracking site.
  • Contact a healthcare provider immediately if you become ill or have symptoms after a suspected exposure to algae bloom.

For questions concerning cyanobacteria blooms within Skagit County lakes, please e-mail Samantha Russell at eh@co.skagit.wa.us or visit the Washington State Department of Health website for Blue-Green Algae. Testing results for Washington Lakes are posted at Washington State Toxic Algae.


Take it Outside!

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Rosemary Alpert, contributing author

Spring is in full swing. It is, without a doubt, the best time of the year to get outdoors and enjoy the longer days of sunlight. Now is the time to welcome these special spring-time opportunities; to appreciate the beauty, fresh air and growing abundance that surrounds us here in Skagit County.  

On April 15, the Governor exclaimed excitedly that it is time to “Take it Outside”. He suggested that, over the coming weeks, we should all be thinking about ways to take our plans outdoors. As he stated about the increase in COVID-19 cases, “Extraordinary times, take extraordinary measures…we are not out of the woods yet.” But ya know what? We can go out into the woods and explore! 

Across the state, many counties are on the verge of moving back into Phase 2 of the Roadmap to Recovery reopening plan, as we are in the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. To keep moving forward, we must continue our collective, healthy progression by getting vaccinated and wearing our masks in public.

Whatever you are planning, take it outside. Let’s think “out of the box”! There are so many unique possibilities to explore here in Skagit County. Let’s take advantage of them!

Need some inspiration? Here are a few ideas to give a try!

Note: Please be sure to wear your mask when in public settings and when gathering with other unvaccinated people (including children)!

  • Plan a small gathering with family or friends at a park or in someone’s backyard.
  • Make a picnic lunch or dinner and find a local park to enjoy your meal. 
  • Watch the sunrise or sunset. 
  • Meet a friend for a walk along the river or under the stars. 
  • Celebrate a birthday or special occasion at a playground!
  • If you can, take work outside! Arrange a meeting or call out of the office. 
  • Explore hiking, running and walking trails across our state. 
  • Plant a garden! There’s nothing more relaxing than tending the earth and listening to the birds. 
  • Paint, dance, sing, photograph—all can be taken outside!
  • Learn a new sport. 
  • Find a quiet spot to read, meditate, or enjoy yoga. 
  • Play with your dog…you know he’ll love it.  
  • Experience outdoor dining and support our local establishments. 
  • Listen to or create music. 
  • Connect with your community; volunteer!

Let’s take advantage of our longer days, be creative, replenish and have fun. After all, there are so many more options available to us this year compared to spring-time 2020. As we move forward with vitality, please–mask up, get vaccinated and “take it outside”!

If you haven’t already, start your spring and summer by getting vaccinated, and help your loved ones do the same. This is the very best thing that you can do to protect yourself and your family and friends, as well as ensure that we continue to move forward with reopening. For more information on COVID-19 vaccinations please visit, www.skagitcounty.net/COVIDvaccine or call the hotline at 360-416-1500. If you have any questions about the vaccines, talk with your health care provider!

“Rosario Beach” 
©Rosemary DeLucco Alpert, 2021 

Family Beach Day During “COVID Summer”

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I don’t know about you, but the last several weeks my family and I have been feeling more cooped up than usual. It has been difficult to deal with the realities of our current situation as the days are now sunny and warm and perfect for all things SUMMER! I feel like I spend a good chunk of my time dreaming up ideas for the weekend, just to strike everything off the list because they are not COVID-safe activities. Last Friday was definitely a tipping point for me, as I sat deflated, and—let’s be honest—angry about not having anything fun planned for the weekend to come.

To pull myself out of this emotional slump, I picked up the phone. I dialed Deception Pass State Park and, with fingers crossed, asked the woman on the phone if their beach was open for visitors. She said that it was, and I thanked her profusely (and rather dramatically) before hanging up. “Woohoo!! Tomorrow will be beach day,” I shouted to my husband. I went to bed feeling over-the-moon excited about finally having a “normal” summer activity planned.

As we drove into the park, I looked around to gauge if anything looked different from last summer. I was nervous about being so out in the open and felt a little anxious about what I might find as we pulled into the parking lot. When we finally parked, I let out a sign of relief.

Deception Pass State Park – photo of the beach at 1:00 pm right before we left for the day.

Along with the regular beach things like sand toys, hats, sunscreen, and a packed lunch, I was sure to bring a face mask for my husband and myself. Even though our oldest is only three (and exempt from the State/County mask requirement), I packed a little pink practice mask along in case she wanted to imitate mommy (and yes, she absolutely did, and it was very cute). Thankfully, we had decided to get there early (as recommended online), in order to avoid larger groups that would gather later in the afternoon. This turned out to be a very smart move! By around 1:30pm, the whole beach was becoming packed with people, and we were able to make a mad dash to the car to keep socially distanced.

All in all, our little adventure at the beach went swimmingly (HA!). Except for having to wear a mask and being a bit more protective of our personal space than I typically would, the day seemed like any other beach day that my family and I might have enjoyed in the past. We all left feeling physically spent, but emotionally energized. On the car ride home, my husband suggested that we should go grab a bite to eat at a local restaurant (which we haven’t done since early March). For the first time in a very long time we sat and enjoyed a meal all together on an outdoor patio. Something that would have been so normal last year now felt like the most delicious treat, and I was impressed and grateful as I watched the restaurant staff and patrons abide by safe-distancing protocols.

What I realized in venturing outside of my comfort zone last weekend is that I cannot feasibly hole up forever. I need to make peace with the fact that this is a marathon—not a sprint—and I need to find balance in order to keep my sanity intact. So, while it isn’t safe or responsible to take on a full calendar of summertime events like before, it is absolutely okay to get out and safely find a little normalcy in very abnormal times.

Don’t forget the sunscreen!

Remember: find some balance this summer and take care of your mental and emotional needs. A little sand between the toes does a lot of good once in a while!

So here are a few take-aways for other households who may be looking for a little beachy fun.

  1. Go early. Like I mentioned above, this is essential in order to make sure that you avoid the crowds that will inevitably arrive come mid-afternoon. We got to the beach at 11am, and it was perfect timing! We were able to secure a space for our things that allowed for safe distancing, and we made an effort to steer clear of more congested areas. Just about the time when we were all feeling sunned-out and a little cranky, it was time to go!
  2. Have your face mask on hand. You will be expected to wear it when using public facilities, and it is smart to wear one when passing people in the parking lot or along trails. Children four and younger and those with underlying medical or behavioral health conditions are exempt from the mask requirement. However, parents of children ages two to four are encouraged to have masks available for their kids when in public settings. Lastly, the CDC states that masks are not required to be worn while people are in the water because they can be difficult to breathe through when they get wet. However, this means that it is even more important to maintain social distancing while swimming or wading.
  3. Pack what you will need and avoid unnecessary stops. And with multiple children, this can be a huge undertaking! Be sure to pack your own sand toys, sunscreen, towels, swimwear, hand wipes, and food (when applicable). Before arriving at the beach, talk to your children about keeping track of their toys and explain why—in this particular situation— they shouldn’t share. Talk to your kids about what they should expect when they get to the beach, and talk them through the experience. 
  4. Practice good hygiene and follow posted instructions. This not only will ensure that you keep yourself and your loved ones safe, but also lets the people around you know that you are taking these new requirements seriously. The more people that are seen following these safety precautions, the more likely that others will follow suit.
  5. Don’t go if you are feeling sick. Also, do not go if you have had recent exposure to a confirmed COVID-19 case. Keep in mind that many infected people never show symptoms but can still be contagious. We can all do our part to curb the spread of the virus, and that means staying home when we have symptoms. You can find the list of symptoms here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/symptoms-testing/symptoms.html

Camping and COVID

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With many people’s more exotic summer travel plans canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic, some families are seeking out simpler vacations close to home. And with summer weather finally here, many are considering camping trips. Camping has always been a way to get away from it all, and by taking some common-sense precautions and planning ahead, spending time in the great outdoors can be a safe option.

Tips for a Safe Camping Trip:

  1. If you or someone from your party is sick, stay home! If you have symptoms like fever, coughing, or shortness of breath, you should cancel your trip and save your adventure for another day. The same advice applies if you have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID.
  • Five People or Less. Parks are asking people to keep groups small to avoid crowds, and only camp with members of your immediate family to reduce transmission risk. Now is not the time to carpool or sleep in tents or RVs with friends or family outside your immediate household.
  • Practice Physical Distancing. You should maintain 6 feet of distance and use a face covering when you are not able to maintain distance. The National Parks Service has created a handy graphic to illustrate what 6 feet looks like. Please keep a moose antler or grizzly bear away from people outside your household.
  • Plan ahead and pack everything you need. Make sure to pack all of your food and bring essentials like hand sanitizer and face coverings. This will also help you to limit the number of stops you need to make on the trip. Let’s face it, the goal of camping should be time in nature, not time running errands.
  • Stay closer to home. Parks are asking visitors to consider visiting a park that is closer to them in order to follow state and county guidelines. This will reduce the need for making stops along the way. More isolated communities have smaller hospital systems and are not set up for an influx of visitors.

What about Bathrooms?

Believe it or not, there is a lot of online chatter about campground and park bathrooms. The consensus is that public restrooms in general are riskier spaces for disease transmission, because they are often highly trafficked and poorly ventilated spaces. To reduce risk, visitors are asked to wear a face covering in restrooms and make sure they have a supply of hand sanitizer on hand. Visitors should also avoid bunching up in a line. Some campgrounds are asking people who camp in an RV to use the restrooms in their unit to help reduce traffic in shared restrooms.   If you have a self-contained unit with a bathroom and shower, please consider using it. 

What about Backcountry Camping?

If you are a more adventurous camper and are used to camping in the backcountry or at dispersed camping sites (camping outside of developed sites), planning is now more important than ever. For backpacking trips, some National Parks are not providing walk-up permits this year, and dispersed camping has been limited in some locations, so you should call or visit the park’s website ahead of time. Some backcountry ranger stations where you might normally get information might also be closed. The Washington Trails Association has created a helpful blog post with links to up-to-date information about wilderness permits.

So while pandemic is causing a lot of challenges this year, enjoy a break outdoors, follow the physical distancing and other guidelines, and enjoy a great camping trip this summer.