How to Recreate Safely During the Coronavirus Pandemic
Disclaimer: The information presented here is accurate to the best of the author’s knowledge on the date of publication. Given the quickly evolving pandemic situation, Coronavirus regulations can and will change. Please consult applicable sources for the most up-to-date guidance on acceptable practices.
As we make our way into the second half of spring, temperatures are rising and we are all itching to get outside. However, the global Coronavirus pandemic continues to loom large, impact lives and complicate matters. There are many questions to answer that we previously never had to consider. Where can we recreate? What activities are allowed? What are the best ways to protect ourselves and those around us?
During this pandemic, outdoor recreation remains as one of the few practical ways to get outside to maintain personal health, physical fitness and overall well-being. However, it is extremely important to maintain caution and adhere to social distancing standards while recreating outdoors, and following the frequently changing closures and restrictions. Whether it is going for a walk, run or something more, it is imperative to put the health and safety of yourself and others at the forefront through these challenging times.
Recreate responsibly by following all local, county, state and federal restrictions and closures; practicing social distancing at all times; and staying close to home for your recreation needs. Most National Parks remain closed, whereas Local and County Parks, State Parks, National Forests and BLM areas have varying closures and restrictions. Most developed facilities also remain closed to maintain social distancing standards. Through this article, you will learn how to look-up and follow the regulations that pertain to your area, and how to keep yourself safe. As you will see, it is not as complicated as it first might sound.
It is best not to travel for your recreation needs during the Coronavirus pandemic; stay close to home. Getting to your outdoor destination is more complicated now than it was just a few months ago. That said, it is still relatively straightforward to figure out where you can go while abiding by local and federal laws, and practicing social distancing. Here are 3 simple things you need to consider before traveling.
Is my recreation destination open?
What are the travel restrictions for where I live?
What are the travel restrictions for where I’m going?
Many National and State Parks that shut their doors at the start of the pandemic are now beginning to consider reopening in a safe manner. That’s great news for us as it means we can get out to the places we love just as summer is starting. Additionally, most National Forests and BLM areas have varying closures and restrictions, but many of the trails and backcountry destinations remain open. It is mainly the developed and frontcountry facilities that remain closed, which include restrooms, campgrounds, visitors centers, ranger stations, among other facilities.
To make the best of your trip, planning is key (when is it not?). Verify that the place you plan to visit is open before you head out by checking their website and getting in contact with appropriate authorities. Most State Parks, National Parks, National Forests and BLM areas have a webpage that will list useful information such as open status and which amenities are available. It is best to sort that out before you go, just as you probably would when traveling under normal circumstances. Also, it is worthwhile consulting the John Hopkins Coronavirus online tracker to ensure your destination is not a hot-zone.
Figuring out your area’s travel restrictions might seem daunting at first, but it only takes a few minutes to do so. State and local governments have been publicizing new travel restrictions that have gone into effect. For example, if you Google search “Colorado travel,” one of the first results is a list of travel guidance from Colorado’s official tourism site. Perform a search like this for your respective state, county, and city of residence. Many cities and counties are simply echoing their state’s orders, though some may have stricter restrictions. If there are discrepancies in the guidance given by each, you are legally obligated to follow the strictest restrictions among them. For example, Colorado is currently issuing a 10-mile limit on recreational travel. However, Gunnison County, CO has issued a ban on all non-county resident visitors until May 27, 2020. Since the restrictions in Gunnison County are stricter than the state, you cannot legally travel to Gunnison County as a non-county resident, even if you live within 10 miles of the county.
Thankfully, many of the day-use activities that were available to us before the Coronavirus pandemic remain available to us today. For instance, hiking, cycling and boating are largely allowed on open federal and state lands. However, developed campgrounds, bathrooms and picnic areas remain mostly closed, even in areas where trails remain open. Many rock climbing areas are also closed due to climbers inherently needing to touch the same rock surfaces. However, dispersed camping is still permitted in many of the National Forests and BLM areas. If going dispersed camping, be sure to pack-in and pack-out all trash, and follow fire safety precautions, leave no trace principles and any other restrictions that may be applicable. Contact the appropriate authorities when planning your trip to ensure the places and activities are open, and to learn about any active restrictions. Additionally, when considering types of activities to indulge in through this pandemic, it is important to maintain social distancing standards, and hence avoiding any group gatherings.
A couple of notable closures include those of the U.S.’s two most popular long-distance hiking trails. The Appalachian Trail (AT) and Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) have closed at the request of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and Pacific Crest Trail Association, which oversee the two trails. The PCT shutdown is scheduled to last until June 1, 2020, though the AT has no specified opening date. Both dates are subject to change, so visit pcta.org and appalachiantrail.org for the most up-to-date information available.
Even though most day-use activities and a few dispersed camping areas are still open, it pays to take some extra precautions when being active. Furthermore, due to limited resources being available through this pandemic, it is important to be even more vigilant when taking safety and responsible recreation into consideration. Many wilderness first responders are not operating on normal schedules and won’t be available to help as they normally would. If you hike, consider not venturing quite so far into the backcountry to reduce the risk of an injury getting you in a bad situation. Likewise, avoid taking risks on new activities. It may not be the best time to try backpacking if you’ve never gone before. If you get stuck or your car breaks down in a hard-to-reach place, the chances of someone getting out to you quickly becomes slim, hence practice precaution when planning.
Staying Safe & Best Practices
Many of the things we can do to keep ourselves safe involve only small changes to our normal routines. In this section we discuss tips for limiting your exposure to viral transmission and to those around you.
When packing for your trip, take into consideration everything you might need and some more. Make sure your vehicle has no major issues that could cause a breakdown. Bring extra clothes, food and water. If you have a GPS/satellite communication device, this would be a great time to carry that with you at all times when recreating outdoors. If considering dispersed camping, be sure to be self-contained and pack-in and pack-out all your trash. If having a campfire, practice extreme precaution with fire safety and have necessary permits as we are entering the fire season in many parts of the country.
Getting to Your Destination
Protecting yourself and your family while getting to your destination can be achieved with just a few changes to your regular itinerary. Fill up with gas and purchase food at your regular gas station and grocery store near your home. Doing so will limit your exposure to people and facilities in other regions. For the same reason, go directly to your destination without making unnecessary stops along the way. When filling up gas, getting a drive-thru or stopping at a grocery store, wear masks and gloves to limit viral transmission. It is recommended that you do not travel for your recreation needs and stay close to home.
Since many backcountry facilities and National Forest trails require taking some dirt road, be aware of the current road conditions and if your vehicle is safe to take on such roads. It would be best to consult with the respective authorities to obtain the most up-to-date information on current road conditions and closures.
Avoid Crowded Areas
Before you even pull into the trailhead parking lot, judge how busy the area is. If cars are lining the grassy shoulder ¼ mile in either direction, that area is probably too crowded to maintain any semblance of social distancing. Move on to another area. Sometimes impromptu changes in plans make for the most memorable days out.
If parking is available, pull into a spot non-adjacent to other people doing things around their cars. Since viral transmission occurs primarily person-to-person, if you are not near anyone, risk of contraction is low. Gather your things for your outdoor excursion of choice and get going. If stretching is a part of your pre-activity ritual, consider doing it somewhere nearby where others won’t have to walk right next to you as they go to and from their vehicles. Avoid touching trailhead signs, sign-in sheets and any other surfaces that might risk contamination. When around others, it is essential to wear your face mask and to maintain social distancing to limit the chances of viral transmission.
Face coverings remain recommended for use while out in public. To improve your trail experience, consider using a buff as an alternative to a bandanna. Buffs, which are stretchy cloth tubes, can be easier to breathe through and are simpler to adjust.
When you come up to another trail user heading in the opposite direction, move to the far side of the trail to give each other room to pass. Many trails are narrow that do not allow much room for passing. In these situations, try and provide as much space as reasonably possible. The local geography and common sense will dictate if and how far you can step off trail, but follow trail regulations to always keep on the trail. If you see someone approaching and spot a good place to step aside, consider taking advantage of that space and waiting until they make their way by you.
Enjoy the Outdoors!
Hopefully the tips presented here will give you some food for thought regarding how to recreate responsibly and safely in the time of the global Coronavirus pandemic. During these challenging times, getting outdoors is one of the greatest things we can do for our physical and mental health and well-being. If we all take a couple of extra steps before getting outside, there is no reason we cannot all enjoy the outdoors safely and responsibly.
Pathloom is a Bay Area-based technology startup on a mission to get more people outdoors, more often by reimagining the way people discover the outdoors.