A postcard of Woodland Park in 1915, a few years before the Spanish Flu pandemic.
A postcard of Woodland Park circa 1915, a few years before the "Spanish Flu" pandemic. Seattle Municipal Archives

The cafes and bars are closed by order of the state. So are the bowling alleys, theaters, gyms, hair salons, and tattoo parlors. Schools are closed, daycares are closed, restaurants are only allowed to offer take-out, and the weather is nice all week.

So naturally, a lot of Seattleites are stepping out of the advised "self quarantine" now and then by escaping into Seattle's 6,400 acres of public parkland.

This was on Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan's mind on Monday when, at the close of a press conference with the governor to announce new social distancing mandates, she issued a park-related plea.

"Please, everybody," Durkan said. "The number one thing you can do: stay home if you can, keep your distance. And for those who get takeout, I would say in Seattle—I urge you—that doesn’t mean, even though it’s beautiful out, you just all go to the park and have your dinner there together."

But what can we actually do in Seattle's parks?

There are more than 485 of them. They're rather beautiful. They have a collective 120 miles of trails to walk, and if there are lessons for today in the 1918 "Spanish flu" pandemic, one of those lessons may be that when Seattleites can't gather together in their normal haunts, they will set out walking.

"No place to go," read a Seattle Times headline from the locked-down winter of 1918, "so Seattleites walk streets.”

In these early spring days of 2020, they are walking the parks, too. In Seattle's parks this week people are also biking, jogging, scooting, hoverboarding, and taking their kids to the playground. Playfield reservations have all been canceled, as have events in park buildings. But the parks are still being taken up on all remaining offers.

So I asked Durkan spokesperson Kamaria Hightower what additional guidance the mayor might give about using Seattle's parks in the age of social distancing. "You should talk to public health on that," Hightower said. When it comes to social distancing, Hightower continued, "We're letting public health authorities lead."

I dutifully reached out to Public Health — Seattle & King County. The overstretched agency, currently swamped with the task of trying to manage increasing deaths and infections from the coronavirus pandemic, didn't get back to me, which is very understandable.

I then searched through the Seattle Parks Department's Twitter feed and found the agency is welcoming people who want to use Seattle's parks so long as they "practice #SocialDistancing," which, according to King County, involves remaining six feet away from other people whenever possible.

Putting it in more directive terms, the Parks Department says: "Please do not congregate."