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Spread Out and Leave No Trace

April 01, 2020 12:00 AM

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​During this time of significant changes to our daily routines, it’s clear that our need for and appreciation of nature is greater than ever.

State and local parks, state forests, and trails are seeing record number of visitors.

From March 17 to 25, Presque Isle State Park in Erie saw an average 165 percent increase in visitation from the same dates last year.

In March, according to the trail counter on the Schuylkill River Trail near Hamburg, there was a more than 500 percent increase in the number of visitors compared to the same time last year.

The Lancaster County Conservancy saw a significant jump in website hits from people seeking information about their nature preserves; and is directing people to diverse locations due to overflowing parking areas and to protect fragile ecosystems.

People are turning to the outdoors. Outdoor activities are a great idea to relieve stress and as immunity boosters, but they should not include exposure to high-touch surfaces or other groups of people -- we need to spread out.

Stay Calm, Stay Home, Stay Safe

The best advice to slow the spread of COVID-19 is to stay at home. Under the statewide stay-at-home order in place, individuals may leave their residences only to perform tasks essential to maintain health and safety or get necessary supplies.

If you have a yard, spend time there outdoors every day. Get ahead of spring yardwork, plant a garden, or keep a journal of the seasonal changes in plants, birds, and wildlife as spring arrives.

This is not the time for backyard gatherings with folks who are not in your immediate family.

How to Spread Out Outdoors
A man walking in the Forest

If possible, take a walk around your neighborhood with the people in your family, as long as you can stay six feet away from neighbors.

Engaging in outdoor activity, such as walking, hiking, or running is allowed if social distancing is maintained.

If you decide to leave your neighborhood, make a plan for several alternate locations, so if you arrive at your first one and there are crowds, you can move on. Also choose a less busy time of day, such as early morning.

Find a local park or trail that offers enough space for social distancing. Pennsylvania has more than 6,000 local parks that are identified on an interactive map.

Check before you go, as some municipalities have closed local parks to protect visitors and employees.

If the park is open, bathrooms and water fountains likely will not be, so plan ahead.

There also are more than 12,000 miles of trails in Pennsylvania, most of which remain accessible during this period. You can find a nearby trail at the Explore PA Trails website.

Tips for Healthy Local Outdoor Recreation

  • Only recreate outdoors with people who live in your household -- not in groups.
  • Spread out -- if the parking lot or the trailhead is crowded, find another location or go at a less busy time of day.
  • Do not use playgrounds, picnic tables, or benches. They are risky because of their high-touch nature, and they are not cleaned regularly.
  • Follow rules for your safety and don’t take unnecessary risks.

State Parks and Forests During the Coronavirus Outbreak

State parks and forests are places people seek out for recreation, reflection, and relaxation.

Pennsylvania has 121 state parks, and 2.2 million acres of state forests. If they decide to come, visitors are being urged to do their part to make the experience a healthy and enjoyable one for themselves and others; and be prepared for limited staff and services.

Until April 30, all state park and forest facilities are closed to protect employees and visitors. This includes restrooms, playgrounds, and all overnight accommodations.

The public can access trails, lakes, forests, roads, and parking areas for activities such as hiking if they are able to keep six feet away from others.

Boating and fishing are allowed if adhering to social distancing.

Leave No Trace Practices are Key

Around the commonwealth, we’re experiencing instances of littering and graffiti on public lands and are asking for your help.

Parks, trails, and state forests are meant for public enjoyment but they’re also for conserving our natural resources.

Be respectful of our special places by practicing Leave No Trace principals:

  • Avoid crowded parking lots and trailheads -- find a different spot.
  • Use the bathroom before you visit.
  • Bring a bag and carry out your trash. 
  • Even better, pick up litter left by others. Then, take it home with you, as there is limited staff emptying trash cans.
  • Clean up after pets and carry out the bags.

It’s also a good idea to hold off on doing a difficult rock climb, going solo backcountry trail running, or trying something new.

There is limited staff on public lands to assist. And, if you have an accident requiring a trip to the emergency room, you are adding stress to an already overtaxed health care system.

So remember, practice social distancing, respect the rules, be careful, and value our protected places.

COVID-19 and Outdoor Recreation Resources

For the most up-to-date, reliable information, refer to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s website for Responding to COVID-19 in Pennsylvania.

For information about state parks and forests, visit the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources website. DCNR also has printable flyers available to help spread the word about safe and healthy outdoor recreation:

The National Park Service provides a public health update, has altered operations, and asks people to check with individual locations before visiting.

The National Parks and Recreation Association provides guidance on how professionals and the public can stay safe and healthy while using public parks and trails.

The American Hiking Society has a frequently asked questions web page on hiking responsibly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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