Sunday, November 1, 2020

Top 10 ways to keep the hiking trails safe during COVID-19 pandemic

Hope you are all safe and that you are getting the opportunity to get on the trails with your kids.  It's now more important than ever to get the kids off their phones and out of the house!  As people continue to flock to the trails in record numbers, there are some changes (besides closures) we need to consider to ensure we all remain safe and doing our part not to spread the virus while hiking.  We are in no way experts nor do we claim to be, and please follow guidelines set out by your governments and health authorities.  These are suggestions and common sense ideas for hiking during the COVID-19.  

1) Stay Active as a Family: While many of our favorite trails have been either closed or inaccessible due to travel restrictions, we have been using these times as opportunities to train for the trails as a family.   We developed a routine for jogging, strength training, and daily walks to be ready for the trails. It has been fun working out with the kids.  Being active strengthens our bodies and our family bond.  When one of us struggles with an exercise, everyone cheers them on.  We don't have all the gym equipment, so we developed stations, such as push-ups, squats, crunches, burpees, jumping jacks, wall sits, running up hills, etc.  Every day is different and it has been great on our bodies, minds, and spirits to remain trail-ready, even when we can't get to our favorite locations.

2) Respect Closures:  While it feels awful when your favorite trail is closed due to the pandemic, but you are taking a huge unnecessary risk by going on a closed trail.  You can get lost or hurt and nobody will be coming by to help.

3) Minimize Contact with Locals: Given that most hikes can take us hours from our homes, it is typical to stop in small towns for gas, food and to shop for local treasures.  But during the pandemic, you may be exposing people in these small towns to the virus.  While big cities may have the hospitals and support to assist people who have been infected with the virus, this is not always the case in smaller towns and so you may be creating even more risk for them.

4) Parking Lot Etiquette: The parking lots are often the busiest area of the trail, as some people getting ready to head out on the trail, while others return to the parking lot at the end of their hike.   Considering the parking lot can be hard to physically distance, wearing a mask provides protection for yourself and others.

5) Leave No Garbage: Take your garbage home with you!  Yes, there are usually garbage bins in parking areas, however, with the virus in mind, you don't want to be spreading the virus by touching communal objects like garbage binds.  We also need to do our part for keeping the staff safe by not increasing the risk of spreading the virus.

6) Leash Your Pets:  Most trails already have this rule in place for good reason, however, during the pandemic, it is more important than usual to keep your pet on a leash and in close proximity.  Your pet may be friendly and loves everyone, but your dog should be obeying the physical distancing rules and you are the only person to make sure your pet is not violating the space of others.  

7) Use Rest Areas with Caution:  Hiking is about the journey and the destination.  Resting at a lookout or a top of a mountain is part of the reward of the sweat (and sometimes tears) of making it to the destination.  But these spots can be busy and so you need to be respectful of others and the rules of physical distancing.  You need to be respectful of others so they have the same privilege.  Keep your gear, boots, and lunch in a contained space so you respect the space of others.  While it's a great time for children to explore, make sure they stay clear from other hiking parties to ensure social distancing. Also, make sure you bring your mask and use it if you are not able to distance in busier rest areas. 

8) Carry in/Carryout: All garbage leaves with you!  I know when we are hiking, in the past, any garbage we have seen, we have picked up and brought out with us.  In our packs, we have ziplock bags for exactly that.  However, during the virus, it is a high-risk activity to pick up the garbage of others unless you can do it without contact.  It's also a good time to mention my pet peeve about people who spit sunflower seeds on the trail....if you are infected with the virus, you are basically leaving a virus trail every time you spit your seeds.  And besides, we go hiking to get away from the virus, but there is nothing that can bring us back to reality than seeing a used dirty mask on the trail.

9) Nature Calls: Someone will inevitably need to use the washroom at some point in the trip and many of the toilets near trails may be off-limits.  Make sure everyone uses the facilities before leaving the house and before getting to the trail. When nature calls on the trail, use either the dig deep and bury method or even better take, carry the portable waste bags with you and bring it home with you.  Please move a fair distance off the trail if you will be using the dig deep and bury method and leave no trace as much as possible.

10) Hand Sanitizer and Personal Wipes: This is something that most likely you do anyway regardless of Coronavirus.  Carry hand sanitizer and wipes and use often (after touching common objects like benches, water fountains, pencil to sign-in to trails), and especially before touching food.  You will need to carry out the wipes, as many are not biodegradable. 

Bonus Item: Step Aside: Trail etiquette dictates that you step aside to let uphill hikers have the right of way.  While this is still the case, you need to also make sure you have sufficient distance to pass by at all times (including flat ground).  Use common sense to allow either party to pass with as much space as possible to help reduce the spread of the virus while enjoying the trails.  If you are going to move off the trail, be careful of the sensitive vegetation so that you don't do further damage to the forest floor.

When in doubt, use common sense to stay safe on the trails.  By not taking specific precautions you are putting yourself at risk and everybody around you.  Hiking is one of the few activities that we can still do while physically distancing... and we need to make sure we protect the sport and ourselves so we continue to have hiking as an option.  Feel free to share this blog with anybody you think needs a refresher course on trail etiquette during the pandemic.  And as always, we would love to hear from you.  What has been your experience while on the trails during the pandemic?  

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