I need nature to keep me feeling happy and healthy - both physically and emotionally. Even a short walk in my neighborhood or a nearby trail in a park will do the trick to put a smile on my face and help me feel grounded. And that’s when the world hasn’t turned upside down and inside out! I’m betting that many (all!?) Oregon Wild supporters feel similarly.
Here in Oregon, we value our outdoor experiences, and as spring arrives along with nicer weather I bet a lot of us are itching to hit the trail, pitch a tent, or float down a river. As all of us struggle with the new reality of limited access to our normal lives, the loss of a job, or fear for loved ones, it makes sense that we turn to nature and the outdoors. We need nature now more than ever to keep us feeling healthy, emotionally grounded, and calm amid all the stress and anxiety of the world around us.
A lot of questions have been swirling around about whether getting outside is safe and prudent amid the coronavirus crisis and its necessary restrictions and precautions. Several recent articles and blog posts have been addressing these questions with advice from medical and outdoor recreation professionals - from OPB to the Oregonian and the Salem Statesman Journal.
As reported in the OPB story, the answer to whether it’s safe to get outside is “Yes, with caveats”. As eager as we all might be to get fresh air, exercise, and spiritual renewal, just because you’re outside doesn’t mean the virus can’t spread, so it’s important that we take all the same health and safety precautions as we do in our homes and communities.
- Maintain a safe distance from others - 6 to 10 feet if not from your household
- Stay home if you're feeling sick in any way
- Practice recommended hygiene (hand washing, sanitizer, cover coughs and sneezes, etc)
- Stay in small groups (10 or less)
But there are some extra considerations to be aware of for having positive and safe outdoor experiences at this time. (WA Trails Association has some good comprehensive tips.)
- Avoid popular or crowded areas. For example, the Columbia Gorge might be a tempting retreat, but consider how busy it usually is and think twice…If you get to a trailhead and it’s busy, consider another location. (Check out Oregon Wild’s suggested outings page or other hike forums or guides for ideas.) Also consider staying local to enjoy parks and trails you might otherwise overlook. This can cut down on the need to use public facilities too.
- Obey 'Leave No Trace' principles. For example, if public restrooms are not available or safe to use, be prepared to pack out your waste.
- Avoid carpooling with anyone outside your household. Meet at trailheads to avoid being confined together in close proximity.
- Be aware of touching common surfaces you might encounter, like outhouse door handles or permit stations. Clean your hands before and after touching these things, or use a barrier like tissue.
- Come prepared with your own food and other supplies like toilet paper and a garbage bag. While agencies are trying to keep up on cleaning facilities, don’t expect them to be well stocked. This will help protect gateway communities as well.
- Practice safe distancing at trailheads and on the trail, giving other people or groups a 6 foot distance to pass by.
- Be extra cautious and don't take risks. Our hospitals and first responders are already dealing with a lot with the COVID-19 crisis and don’t need extra stress from people getting lost or injured out in the woods.
- Stay updated on closures and safety guidelines. As of March 23, 2020 Oregon’s State Parks has closed all facilities around the state. Crater Lake National Park is closed. And the US Forest Service has closed campgrounds and facilities, while many trailheads are still open. Call ahead or check websites before you go. (Here's a list of local National Forest sites, and links for the Oregon Department of Forestry, and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.)
Finally, remember that not everyone has the same ability to get outdoors during this time, but they might benefit from the healing effects of nature’s beauty. Consider sharing your positive experiences and lovely photos with friends and loved ones, or with Oregon Wild via social media @OregonWild #OregonWild.