With the world on notice to practice social distancing and self-isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us might not even consider ventures outdoors. For others, conscious and responsible time spent outside is the only cure for cabin fever—taking advantage of wide-open outdoor locations within reasonable proximity, ideal for keeping your distance from others. With that healthy outlet in mind, earlier this week, the National Park Service (NPS) announced that visitors are allowed free admission to all national parks that remain open, until further notice.
“This small step makes it a little easier for the American public to enjoy the outdoors in our incredible national parks,” Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt said in a statement directing the NPS to waive entrance fees.
There’s an obvious catch, however. At many locations where social distancing can be exercised responsibly (and that are still open), the NPS states that those parks will likely not have any open facilities (i.e., visitors’ centers, restrooms, concessions). For National Parks with heavy snowfall, that could mean access issues with unplowed roads.
Secretary Bernhardt continued, “Our vast public lands that are overseen by the Department offer special outdoor experiences to recreate, embrace nature and implement some social distancing.”
While enjoying the outdoors, adhering to recommended health practices being implemented is of the utmost importance. On Friday, The National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) released a statement in support of people getting outside and enjoying parks and trails, all while doing so in a responsible way. They recommend the following:
– 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 social 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.
According to the NRPA, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has “flagged mental health as a top concern associated with the COVID-19 outbreak.”
They go on to state, “We also know that parks provide a connection to the outdoors and green space as well as opportunities for physical activity which studies demonstrate reduces stress and improves mental health.”
During this time of isolation and uncertainty, taking care of yourself mentally is just as important as curbing this virus. If you venture outdoors for some exercise and fresh air, please use caution and follow the CDC’s best practices.
Keep informed on open national parks near you and the NPS Public Health Updates.
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