How to Participate in Outdoor Recreation During COVID-19

By Eric Oliver, Conservation Fellow

CVI’s members are not indoors people. Indeed, Idahoan’s love for the outdoors inspires our work protecting public lands and the outdoor way of life that defines our state. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, CVI is thinking hard about what a responsible connection with the great outdoors looks like. 

Idaho’s three-week stay-at-home order (and likely extension) allows outdoor recreation but discourages traveling, raising some questions. We know that folks across the state will face very different situations in the coming weeks. But what’s important is to put communities first, to ask for help and to offer help, and more than anything, to do what’s right. We know that the land takes care of us when we take care of the land, and the same can be said about our communities and neighbors.

Do Get Outside, but Avoid Crowded Spots

There’s a reason that being outside with the sun on your face leaves you smiling: time spent outdoors brings enormous physical, mental, and emotional benefits. Idahoans know this: we were already seeing record-breaking use of our trails and campgrounds, and with the pandemic leaving few other options, Boise’s foothills have sprung to life. As long-time proponents of open space, nothing makes CVI happier than seeing folks enjoy the outdoors, but we need to use caution. Look for ways to avoid crowds, like heading to trails in the morning or late evenings when they’re less crowded. Remember that it’s required that we follow the CDC’s guidance of staying six feet apart and limiting the size of your group, even while outdoors. At this point, folks should opt for a walk around the neighborhood or an afternoon in the backyard over a group ride or crowded picnic.

Know Before You Go, and Keep Adventures Modest

Many areas have made the difficult decision to shut down altogether. Campgrounds, playgrounds, and other recreational facilities and public lands around the state have been closed, and it’s important to check in with your favorite area to get up-to-date guidance. While the stay-at-home order encourages recreation, it also prohibits nonessential travel. Now is not the time to explore a new area or head out for the weekend, nor is it a good time to push your adventure limits; on the off chance your outing takes a turn for the worst, your care will fall to an over-burdened healthcare system. These are not easy decisions to make, but as the reality of the threat posed by COVID-19 becomes clear, CVI fully supports the decision to exercise restraint.

Steer Clear of Rural Communities

We’re the first to admit that it’s hard to stay put when Idaho’s vast public lands beckon. But at this point, CVI is working to uplift voices from around the state advising folks not to travel to or through rural communities. Despite initially waiving entry fees, even Idaho’s closest National Parks have now closed. This decision came after gateway communities in rural areas began to sound the alarm as they realized that the soaring number of visitors to public lands could be unwittingly spreading the virus to their communities, which have limited healthcare resources and aging populations. McCall, Stanley, and Owyhee County have asked folks to avoid visiting, while Idaho’s National Forests, like the Boise, have begun to issue closures. These orders leave little room for uncertainty: we must avoid recreational travel. 

The Importance of Self-Restraint

Idahoans love the outdoors because they teach us about challenge and humility. Now more than ever, we need to take stock of the lessons we’ve learned out there and do the right thing for our communities. This crisis asks us for restraint even as our instinctual response urges us to gather with loved ones and to find solace in our open spaces. Many of us can remember the road we didn’t risk, the storm we didn’t brave, or the river we opted not to cross. Let’s help make the COVID-19 crisis another tale we can tell our kids about making hard decisions today to protect what we love tomorrow. Our favorite spots will always be there, after all.

The Outdoors Starts at Your Front Door

In the meantime, we’re focused on the natural world right outside our window. In our neighborhoods, flowers are beginning to bloom, birds are chirping, and dogs are soaking up the sun. Our close-to-home parks and trails are still here for us provided we adopt the right practices (click here to support funding for our parks)! If you’re like us, maybe you’re finding that these things could have used some more attention all along.

The following is a list of resources to help outdoor enthusiasts and public land lovers make good decisions about outdoor recreation in a time of crisis.

  1. First thing’s first, the Center for Disease Control’s COVID-19 Guidelines
  2. State of Idaho Official Resources for the Novel Coronavirus
  3. COVID-19 Pandemic: What Small Businesses Can Do
  4. The Leave No Trace Recommendations for Getting Outside During COVID-19
  5. The Ethics of Thru-Hiking During a Pandemic, Outside Magazine
  6. Ways to Enjoy & Protect Nature Without Leaving Your Home, The Nature Conservancy
  7. Exercising During Coronavirus, The New York Times