No, Sheltering in Place Doesn’t Include Hiking in Crowds

In locked-down America, the outdoors is one of the only places left to go. And everyone seems to be going. Leaders and health officials around the country are struggling to balance the need for separation with the need for escape and exercise.

Southern California’s always-jammed roads were eerily quiet the first weekend of a statewide lockdown meant to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, but bumper-to-bumper traffic found a new venue: local hiking trails.

So many Californians headed outdoors, state and local officials reversed earlier statements that getting out and enjoying nature was a safe exception to shelter-in-place rules.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom scolded residents for crowding parks and trails where “it’s almost impossible to socially distance,” adding: “To make it easier for you, we are going to shut down all state parking lots,” which he did. Los Angeles County, home to roughly 10 million people, closed its 60 hiking trails and parks.

Here closer to home, Great Smoky Mountains National Park had to close. Not because of a virus outbreak or bad weather, but because of overcrowding. The park received crowds 15-25% larger than the seasonal average. That is not social distancing. So too DuPont State Recreational Forest. Closed. Pisgah National Forest? All restrooms and campgrounds closed. The Blue Ridge Parkway? Also, restrooms and campgrounds closed. But did people get the hint? Apparently not, as the southern end of the Parkway is now closed, with more sections likely to follow.

It’s great that everyone wants to get outside during this time of ultimate stress. But don’t overload the infrastructure. Don’t go to the most popular places. Choose the least busy time of day. But best of all, just stay home.



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