The weather is getting warmer and outdoor time has never felt as precious as it does right now. That’s why the USDA Forest Service, the National Association of State Foresters, and the Ad Council are launching a campaign to help Americans recreate safely and responsibly. Every citizen has the ability to keep their communities and outdoor spaces safe by following safety guidelines and taking the necessary precautions.
Here’s how to get out and enjoy nature this weekend.
Planning a Day Trip
Before heading out to the parks, whether there is a pandemic or not, it is best to check the local guidelines posted by the Park Service and local authorities. Remaining socially distant is very important currently, so please respect the personal space of other hikers and park visitors. Plan trips to the park in advance and be sure to have a backup plan or two. If trails or high-traffic areas are crowded, it is best to leave and try another area. Sometimes, visiting popular locations at off-peak times is the best plan of attack. Try hiking favorite trails early in the morning. The early bird gets the worm!
Fire Safety in the Parks
Following the CDC guidelines for appropriate social distancing in incredibly important during these unprecedented times, but that isn’t the only thing park visitors should think about. Trails, green spaces, and natural areas need to be adequately cared for as well. Be aware of where to park. Don’t park in grassy, unauthorized areas because they are habitats for local wildlife and important to the local ecosystems. The undercarriage of cars can become quite hot after a lengthy drive and could start a wildfire if parked over dry grasses. Larger vehicles that are towing boats or campers, be wary of chain connections. If chains aren’t appropriately crossed, they can drag and spark which also causes wildfires.
If local park authorities are allowing campfires, never leave a fire unattended. If it is especially windy, avoid starting a fire entirely. At the end of park visits, extinguish campfires thoroughly. Drown fires with water, stir the fire pit, and drown the pit again. After drowning a fire several times, test the heat of the embers with the back of your hand. Don’t leave the embers unattended until they are sufficiently cooled. Here’s a list of fire safety recommendations.
Enjoying the Outdoors at Home
A visit to a National Park might not be necessary this weekend if your home has a backyard oasis. Yards and gardens are an excellent respite from the stay-at-home orders. Backyard areas are just as susceptible to sparks as natural areas. Remain diligent about home fire safety. Check the connections between fuel tanks and grass grills before starting them. Charcoal grills should be monitored at all times and coals properly cooled and disposed of after use.
Check for local burn bans before burning any yard waste or starting a campfire. If burning is allowed, protect your home by making sure firepits or bonfires are at least 15 feet away from any structures or hanging branches. On windy days, refrain from starting fires at all. Ensure there is a reliable water source nearby the entire time a fire is burning. Burn piles for yard waste should be small rather than tall. Many communities offer curbside vegetation pick up. If this is an option, considering bagging yard waste and avoid burning vegetation entirely.
Socially Distant Activities in the Parks
Being outdoors is a great way to relieve stress, get fresh air, and keep yourself healthy both physically and mentally. The CDC recommends visiting parks closer to home to avoid the further spread of COVID-19; don’t visit the parks if you are sick or have recently been exposed to the virus. Since there is currently no evidence that COVID-19 can spread through water, swimming is an excellent recreational pastime. Many pools are open in local parks but limiting their capacity in compliance with social distancing guidelines. Lakes and ponds offer more water activities such as fishing, canoeing, and kayaking; all great ways to socially distance yourself while getting exercise.
While not every trail is available yet, many hiking and biking trails are open for business. Provided the trail isn’t too crowded, pathways throughout local parks are great for more than just a walk. Take a closer look at your natural surroundings. Many parks offer bird watching guides with lists of native species. Bird watching is a great activity because the only equipment needed are your eyes and ears. Visitors with green thumbs may enjoy tree identification. Tree identification is a bit like solving a mystery. Use leaves, branches, and bark as clues to figure out what species are living in your area. Bring a pad and paper to sketch the local flora and fauna for later identification with an artistic flair.