Stay calm, stay home, stay safe. While travel in Pennsylvania has not been restricted, the best advice to slow the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) is to stay home. But what about healthy, outdoor activities?
We know, and many studies have shown, that outdoor recreation is good for us. Nature makes you nicer and is good for mental health; exercise, especially outdoors, serves as an immune booster; and doctors are prescribing outdoor activities to help with physical health issues. These things are important during this unprecedented time.
We all need to do our part during the nation's public health crisis caused by COVID-19. DCNR is acting to help protect employees, partners, volunteers, and visitors while still allowing opportunities to connect with nature.
Pennsylvania State Parks and Forests and the Coronavirus
On Monday, DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn announced that all facilities at state park and forests in Pennsylvania will be closed for 14 days (until Tuesday, March 31) to help slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
During this time, the public is still able to access trails, lakes, forests, roads, and parking areas for passive and dispersed recreation, such as hiking.
"People will have access to state-owned open spaces to continue to enjoy the healthful benefits of recreation and being outdoors," Dunn said. "However, as part of Pennsylvania's COVID-19 mitigation efforts, all of the buildings at state parks and forests including the park and forest offices, and all restrooms will be closed, and all events and public educational programs are canceled."
This is a change from the initial action taken to close day use areas in state parks, including parking areas, in Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery counties. Public lands are now open in these counties as well as statewide, and parking areas are accessible.
"We heard from many visitors who were disappointed about not being able to hike and enjoy nature in our state parks, as they saw it as a good alternative to avoid crowds and stay healthy," Dunn said. "We learned from that, and evolved our direction to allow access to public lands while encouraging visitors to follow social distancing recommendations."
Closed facilities include:
- Park and forest offices and visitor centers
- Campgrounds, cabins, and all forms of overnight accommodations
- Public programs, events, and trainings are canceled
Trails are open for hiking, although there will not be any restrooms available. Water access areas and boat launches are open for boating and fishing.
DCNR rangers, park managers, and state forest district managers remain at work to ensure security and public safety. Other staff, such as maintenance workers and environmental educators, is limited.
Social Distancing in the Outdoors
"We encourage practicing social distancing while enjoying open spaces including avoiding groups and crowds, and state park and forest visitors should use the bathroom before they leave home," Dunn said.
To help avoid exposure to COVID-19 and still enjoy the outdoors:
- Adhere to the social spacing guide (minimum 6 feet) between people and don't recreate in groups
- Take hand sanitizer with you and use it regularly
- Avoid touching your face, eyes, and nose
- Cover your nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing with a tissue or flexed elbow
- If you are sick, stay home until you feel better
Leave No Trace
Visitors to state parks and forests should be respectful of our natural places.
Follow responsible outdoor ethics, so that we can ensure that Pennsylvania 121 state parks and 20 state forest districts remain in good condition for use during this unprecedented time.
Leave No Trace tips include:
- If you carry in items such as food wrappers and bottles, carry them out
- Don't litter
- Use the bathroom at home before you visit, or dispose of waste properly
- Leave any natural objects as you find them
- Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience
DCNR Central Office Closed
Also closed is DCNR's central office in the Rachel Carson State Office Building in Harrisburg until at least Tuesday, March 31.
Many of the staff are teleworking to keep conservation programs and projects, and recreation and conservation grants moving. They are still reachable by phone and email.
DCNR is closely monitoring the COVID-19 situation and working to abide by directives from the Pennsylvania Department of Health and federal agencies. Check the DCNR website and follow us on social media for the latest information.