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COVID-19: Outdoor Impacts


There is no doubt these are uncertain and unprecedented times. From the NCAA spring seasons and professional sports leagues being cancelled to schools being suspended to Stay at Home executive orders being issued, life as we once knew it has come to an end, at least temporarily. Abrupt changes came literally overnight, forcing us to learn a new way of doing things and a new normal.

However, there has been some positive that has come out of this COVID-19 situation. One is the environmental impacts it has made across the state, nation, and globally. A recent article in the Washington Post states that air quality in the U.S. is improving due to coronavirus lockdown. Major cities like Los Angeles have seen reduced air pollution with less vehicles on the road.

Another positive: more people are getting outside, so much so that North Carolina closed 25 state parks to promote social distancing. There had been so many people visiting North Carolina’s state parks during this time and with the beautiful spring weather that the decision was made to close many of the most popular state parks, including Pilot Mountain State Park and Raven Rock State Park, two posts previously featured in this blog.

The good news is that more people are getting outside, after being cooped up day after day. My hope is that more people and new audiences are seeing the benefits of getting outside to their local parks and trails, while practicing proper social distancing. Under Governor Cooper’s Stay at Home executive order, people are still allowed to enjoy trails and greenways as long as they practice social distancing.

My family and I got out for a family bike ride to our local Sam’s Branch Greenway on Good Friday, part of the Clayton River Walk along the Neuse River, one of our local greenways through our Town of Clayton, NC Parks & Recreation’s greenways and trails. There were many families and people out riding, running, and walking the greenway, some wearing protective face masks as recently recommended by the CDC.

In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) provided the following statement regarding the use of local parks and trails:

“In places where there are no restrictions on the use of local parks, trails and open spaces, we encourage all users to follow these recommendations:

  • Refrain from using parks or trails if they are exhibiting symptoms.
  • Follow CDC’s guidance on personal hygiene prior to and during use of parks or trails.
  • Prepare for limited access to public restrooms or water fountains.
  • While on trails, warn other users of their presence and as they pass, and step aside to let others pass.
  • Follow CDC guidance on the recommended size of social gatherings including outdoor picnicking, pick-up sports and other group hangouts, and maintain proper physical distance at all times.
  • Observe CDC’s minimum recommended physical distancing of 6 feet from other individuals at all times. If this is not possible, users should find an alternate location or depart that space.
  • Consult their local and state ordinances and guidelines for the most up to date recommendations on park and trail use.”

NC State University’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management (PRTM) recently released an article about the health benefits of getting outside and the renewed interest in the outdoors for many people.

One final positive out of this situation is the shift towards innovative virtual programming through the use of technology. From online classes to virtual programs, parks and recreation departments and other organizations are replacing traditional face-to-face programs with virtual programs during this time of social distancing. A great example and opportunity is Trail Life USA’s National Backyard Campout scheduled for Friday, April 17 where they are encouraging all families across America to join the event and create memories with their families in their own backyard.

In an unfortunate time when there has been so much negative, these are just a few examples of the positive environmental impacts that are coming out of this…

Published by Dave Herpy

I am a father of four, a camp and outdoor recreation professional, and a freelance writer. I have over twenty years of experience in the outdoor industry and over a decade of experience as a freelance writer. I enjoy camping, cycling, golfing, hiking, kayaking, running, swimming, and triathlons, as well as traveling, volunteering, and writing. I live in Clayton, North Carolina.

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