#RecreateResponsibly: How to Celebrate Memorial Day Weekend Safely Amid COVID-19

#RecreateResponsibly campaign for summer adventures.
#RecreateResponsibly campaign for summer adventures.Courtesy Image

Memorial Day weekend has always been the hallmark start to summer—and, more importantly, summer adventures. And we all desperately need that reminder that sunny days are ahead.

“This weekend marks a cognitive shift from work to play. We associate summer with freedom, with letting go of the rules,” says Amy Cirbus, PhD, LMHC, director of clinical content at the teletherapy platform Talkspace.

But unfortunately, as we all know, we can’t quite let go of all the rules this Memorial Day weekend. It’s not as easy as loading the kids in the car and hitting the next national park on your list. Or even getting out into nature for city-dwellers.

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This year, we have to be really intentional about recreating responsibly to minimize the risk to ourselves, to others, and to our public lands, says Tania Lown-Hecht, communications director for the Outdoor Alliance, a non-profit dedicated to protecting public land.

That’s why organizations like OA, REI, and the Outdoor Industry Association have banned together with land managers to create The Recreate Responsibly Coalition. Thursday, they teamed up with outdoor educators and influencers like Katie Boué to launch a #RecreateResponsibly campaign for summer adventures.

“In the last few months, considering our community’s health, outdoor spaces have been closed due to overcrowding—the lakeshore trail in Chicago, the Highline in New York City, public beaches in California. As some of these spaces plan to reopen, one key to keeping them accessible is for all of us to be responsible and thoughtful about how we get outside,” Lown-Hecht says.

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The rules may be a little different for Memorial Day weekend 2020—or, really, for all of summer 2020. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still catch that summer vibe—even if your city is still in total lockdown.

“The first long holiday weekend is both a reward and the entryway to fun,” Cirbus says. Here’s how to get yours and still stay safe.

How to Celebrate Memorial Day Weekend Responsibly if You’re Heading Outside

These six guidelines on how to #RecreateResponsibly will help keep you and those around you safe, and our public lands more accessible to all.

1. Know Before you Go

Check the status of the place you want to visit. Unfortunately there’s not a centralized source for information right now for spots that cross land managers (local parks, state parks, federal lands). Your best bet: Check the website for the park or area you want to visit. Even though government websites are notoriously the worst, most land managers are actively updating them with what is and isn’t open right now. Call the phone number on their site if the information isn’t clear.

If it’s closed, don’t go. If you get there and it’s crowded, have a plan B. That means you need to also check the open status of other parks and lands close by before you head out.

2. Plan Ahead

Bring everything you need for the day—for yourself, everyone in your car, and your vehicle itself, Lown-Hecht advises. That means getting gas before you leave, bringing plenty of water since sources are likely to be shut off, hauling all your food, having a face covering, and bringing plenty of hand sanitizer. Don’t forget the toilet paper or wag bags if you’re going to be out long enough for nature to call, she adds. (Seriously—there’s some evidence of fecal-oral transmission of coronavirus so you really don’t want to touch trailhead bathrooms if you don’t have to.)

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3. Stay Close to Home

This is not the time to travel long distances to adventure. Plus, most places are only open for day use anyway. Lown-Hecht says a good rule of thumb for what we know now is stay “minutes or miles” from your house. If you need to get gas, you’ve probably gone too far.

4. Practice Physical Distancing

Adventure only with your immediate household or a few quarantine friends. Some states have given the okay to gather in small numbers, but groups can add up fast and create crowding. Be prepared to cover your nose and mouth and give others space. If you’re sick, stay home.

Some great options for activities that lend themselves to less contact, according to Lown-Hecht: mellow river trips, where everyone has their own boats and brings their own supplies (just make sure you’ve sorted out how to shuttle without sharing a car); bike rides while wearing a buff or face covering to protect one another; and hiking, if you can find wide trails that aren’t too popular.

5. Play It Safe

Search-and-rescue operations and healthcare resources are both strained, so slow down and choose lower-risk activities to reduce chances of injury. Since you never think you’re going to get hurt when you choose a trail, a good rule is know your ability level, then ratchet it down about 30 percent, Lown-Hecht says. There’s no need to send it down the Porcupine Rim Trail, summit a new mountain, or try whitewater paddling for the first time right now. Limit the risk of breaking your limbs, getting lost, or needing to be rescued for any reason.

6. Leave No Trace

Respect public lands and communities and carry out everything you brought in—food scraps and toilet paper included.

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How to Celebrate Memorial Day Weekend Responsibly if You’re Stuck in the House

We definitely have preconceived notions about what summer adventures look like—but change those notions and you can reap the feeling of freedom and happy days ahead, says Cirbus. Here are 7 ways to create that sense of adventure at home.

1. At the Very Least, Go on Vacation Mode

“If you can’t get a physical change of scenery, intentionally alter the energy of your environment,” Cirbus advises. Turn off notifications and declare a house-wide social media ban till Tuesday. Turn on your out of office. This will help you fully shift your focus to your weekend ‘adventure’ and mimic the benefits of truly being away, she adds.

2. Challenge Your Outdoor Survival Know-how Virtually

Three days off is the perfect time to learn new survival skills. Companies like Tom Brown Jr’s Tracker School are offering online classes on how to build a primitive shelter, find water, make a bow drill, and find food in the wilderness, Cirbus points out. Outdoor Core offers cheap, online workshops on things like how to craft a leather belt pouch for bushcraft, knife etiquette and handling skills, even how to cook with tough cuts of game like venison. This is a great way to spend time with your kids, too.

3. Go Camping on Your Property

You don’t have to be in the woods or desert to get that under-the-stars feeling. Pitch a tent in the backyard, on your building’s roof, or even in your living room. Then, really sell it: Cook on your camping stove (don’t forget to crack a window), move around only by the light of your headlamp, and stream Youtube videos of a campfire or a starry sky. Check out REI’s guide to indoor camping for more mood-setting ideas.

4. Visit National Parks Virtually

The National Park Foundation has launched virtual park activities for families to get their public lands fix from home—and it’s the ideal way to entertain and educate kids from the living room. There are ranger talks co-hosted by Sesame Street characters, virtual tours of interesting places like the Channel Islands and Crater Lake, even zen audio experiences that let you listen to the sounds of nature and practice a little mindfulness. And it’s all totally free.

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5. Create an At-home Obstacle Race

“Most gyms and fitness organizations are bringing adventure courses into your home. There are virtual mile counters as well as running and obstacle challenges, all created to mimic what you might do at a weekend race or adventure course,” Cirbus points out. Gather your family or your housemates and set up obstacles in the backyard, or challenge your siblings to a virtual race tracked on Strava.

6. Try a Meditation Retreat

If pandemic anxiety and stress has been weighing you down, this quieter weekend may be the perfect time to take on an inner adventure, Cirbus suggests. Virtual retreats are being offered in abundance, right now. Check out multi-day programs from Insight Meditation Society or Spirit Rock Insight Meditation Center, or create your own retreat with the free programs from The Chopra Center or The Awake Network.

7. Host an Adventure Film Festival

If you can’t get in a big ride or climb, score that sense of awe from the screen. (Pro tip: Set up a projector in the backyard or on the roof for a real treat of an experience.) Adventure film fests all over the country have unlocked virtual screenings in lieu of their actual events, or to share films from the past. Mountainfilm’s 2020 screenings are available until May 25, while Reel Rock, Banff, and others are offering access to their past film libraries. Craft your own line-up with classics like Meru, Valley Uprising, and 180° South all on different streaming platforms.

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