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Hiking safely in the age of COVID-19

  • Ben Haubrich on a Harris Center hike in Lyndeborough last fall. PHOTO BY BEN CONANT

For the Ledger-Transcript
Published: 4/15/2020 4:31:28 PM

With so much that is canceled or closed due to the pandemic, more and more people are taking to the woods for solace, recreation, and respite from cramped quarters. Thankfully, hiking is still allowed under the governor’s stay-at-home order – but, on some trails, overcrowding poses a serious and growing concern with regard to social distancing. Most local trails remain open for now, but extra precautions must be taken to keep them that way. Here’s how to keep yourself, and others, healthy in the great outdoors while the need for social distancing remains:

Stay home if you’re sick. If you or anyone in your household is experiencing flu-like symptoms, do not go to public places, even trails and conservation lands. If you must stay home, there is still plenty of nature to be enjoyed in your own yard or from your window or front stoop. You can find fun and inspiring ideas for experiencing backyard nature at harriscenter.org.

Stay local. Keep close to home, and choose quieter spots or quieter times of day for your outings. Mount Monadnock is experiencing exceptionally high visitation right now, so take this opportunity to explore some of the region’s lesser-known treasures instead. Find trail maps on the websites of any of our local or statewide land trusts – the Harris Center for Conservation Education, the Monadnock Conservancy, the Society for Protection of New Hampshire Forests, New Hampshire Audubon, or The Nature Conservancy in New Hampshire – or on trailfinder.info. Many local conservation commissions also share town-specific trail information online. If you have access to a printer, download and print your own maps ahead of time to avoid the need for contact with high-touch shared surfaces like kiosks and trail registers.

Keep your distance. Only hike with members of your own household, and stay at least six feet from other hikers at all times. If a parking lot is crowded when you arrive, go somewhere else.

Keep your dogs on leash. This is especially important now, when increased trail activity means a higher probability of encounters with other dogs and other hikers. Knowing how much we all snuggle with – and breathe upon – our furry companions, other trail users may be understandably concerned about coming into contact with your pet, even if you yourself are standing safely six feet away.

Don’t take risks. Search and rescue efforts put first responders at risk, and can divert medical attention away from those who need it most. Save your epic backcountry adventures for another day, and use an abundance of caution with regard to weather, terrain, and trip planning. For a list of the “ten essentials” you should bring with you on every outing, as well as other tips for safe hiking, visit hikesafe.com.

We are truly fortunate to live in an area with a strong land ethic and an abundance of open space. May you delight in discovering out-of-the-way places – safely, separately, and in good health!

Brett Amy Thelen is Science Director at the Harris Center for Conservation Education.


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