6 Reasons to Respect Recreation Closures During the COVID-19 Pandemic

During these challenging times of COVID-19, we fully understand the desire to get outdoors and connect with nature. In fact, one of our core beliefs at the Greenway Trust is that when we are connected with nature, our lives are better.

However, as our community comes together to deal with an unprecedented global crisis, it means we need to take unprecedented actions to adjust our behaviors in the interest of public health. As part of this, pubic land agencies have had to make tough decisions about access and closures in order to protect our community. We all miss the great outdoors, but the trails, parks, and forests will be waiting to welcome us back once this is all safely in the past. Plus, it’s the perfect time to get creative and try out some new ways to connect with nature from home.

Make sure to check out our list of the current closures and tips for still connecting with nature from your home and neighborhood.

Now is the time for all of us to lean in, lead by example, and abide by these closures.  We are all in this together.

Six reasons to respect closures during the COVID-19 pandemic

Social distancing is a powerful tool to combat the spread of the Coronavirus, but it’s impossible to fully achieve at a crowded trail or park.

Our understanding of COVID-19 is evolving every day, and we are learning that our odds of exposure to an asymptomatic person (or being asymptomatic ourselves) are likely higher than we think. When thousands of people walk a trail, even six feet apart, it just isn’t feasible to avoid touching or interacting with potentially contaminated surfaces. This is especially true if we travel to a trail away from our community. Stopping for gas, using a restroom, and buying snacks are all separate opportunities to spread COVID-19.

Lead by example – our actions reach further than we think.

When we see cars at trailheads and people on trails, we assume we’re allowed to participate, and by our presence, more people will make the same assumption and come. Even if access isn’t officially closed, staying home reduces the chances of large groups developing by accident.

Our individual actions can have serious impacts on the health of others.

The coronavirus can affect anyone, and we have no idea what underlying conditions those around us might have. It’s also very possible to be asymptomatic and not even know that we are carriers. When you are making decisions about whether or not to go against recommendations and hit the trails, we encourage you to seriously consider the risk, knowing that you could be spreading this virus and risking lives.

Massive spikes in demand on public lands put already-limited resources at risk.

Public lands staff saw June-sized crowds in March as people flocked to get outside during the Stay at Home order. Our public land agencies simply do not have the current staffing and resources (they are being hit by this economic uncertainty and work restrictions as well!) to keep facilities sanitized, patrol trails, and conduct maintenance work needed to repair popular sites after a wet winter season. Unfortunately, we are already hearing reports of public restrooms being vandalized for toilet paper, and closure signs being pulled down by visitors as quickly as staff can put them up, adding to confusion. So whether you’re a local or a frequent visitor, a hiker, biker, hunter, jeeper, or horseback rider, now is the time for us all to respect the land closures. For your sake, for the sake of our public servants, and to help minimize damage done to the lands we love while staff is so limited.

Protect our community’s Search and Rescue volunteers and avoid the use of already-limited Personal Protective Equipment on rescues that could have been avoided.

If you get hurt or lost while out recreating, a team of volunteers from Search and Rescue will put themselves at risk and use up valuable Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in order to help you. Many people don’t realize that Search and Rescue organizations are 100% volunteer-run (no paid staff), and these incredible women and men volunteer their time, energy, and equipment to help us when we get lost or hurt while adventuring. During the COVID-19 outbreak, the risk is much, much higher for them (and their families). In the weeks following the Stay at Home order, local Search and Rescue organizations had higher than usual calls to popular day-hike and backcountry locations to rescue lost or injured recreationalists. In order to protect themselves from potential coronavirus exposure, these first responders now have to wear full PPE, including N95 masks (a limited resource).

Avoid overburdening healthcare and other critical services, especially in rural communities.

Healthcare services are overwhelmed, or will be soon, and any twisted ankle, hypothermia case, or fall while recreating adds to the pressure on them. The effect is especially felt in rural areas, where many of our usual outdoor adventures take place. Whether we are a recreationalist extraordinaire or trying something new, accidents can happen to anyone, anywhere. Let’s do our part to not burden healthcare services with a preventable accident.

Now is the time to all come together as a united front to slow this pandemic. We look forward to the day when we can start sharing information about lands reopening, but until then, the Greenway Trust and many of our partners in the outdoor recreation community are coming together to encourage everyone to respect the closures, stay safe, and explore fun ways to stay connected with nature from your home or neighborhood.

Guidance and advice from other recreation organizations

Leaders within the recreation community are doing their best during these uncertain times to educate the public and provide guidance on how to responsibly spend time outdoors while heeding public health recommendations. We will share information from other organizations here for your reference.