Outdoor rec in a pandemic


While outdoor recreation is encouraged because of the COVID-19 pandemic, most park facilities are closed, including restrooms, bathhouses and visitor centers.

Thanks to COVID-19, Virginia is still closed for business. And based on the latest information coming out of Richmond, we can plan on that being the case at least through the middle of May.

If there can be any good news found, the weather is warming up, and there has been no total ban on outdoor recreation. Fact of the matter is, many folks have increased their normal amount of outdoor exercise and activity during this shutdown. It beats the heck out of daytime TV and a bag of Oreos — well, I guess that depends on who you are asking.

The evidence of an increase in outdoor recreation can be found in the chatter over social media. I have also noticed an increase in the inquiries regarding outdoor recreation. Where are the best places to visit? Where is it safe to go? What is still open to the public? The last thing anyone wants to do is travel a couple of hours by car only to find out your recreational destination is shut down.

So let’s take a look. We’ll begin with the parks in Virginia.

A quick caveat to start: the information that I give can change at any time. It is all from the latest government updates that came out on April 8; however, that can change at any time. It is the government, after all.

So use this information as a guideline, but the best thing you can do is check online the day that you are going out. I would start by doing a Google search on the exact location you want to visit. Most will have their own website and most have a COVID-19 update on their front page. More general information can be found on the state’s website, www.dcr.virginia.gov, on the national park website at www.nps.gov or at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Department of Forest website www.fs.usda.gov.

In general terms, the national parks within Virginia are closed to the public. That would include the Shenandoah National Park, as well as the George Washington and Jefferson national forests. Closure means that all public facilities are closed in these parks along with trailhead facilities and other access points to the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.

However, in the next paragraph on the website it states, “Currently, many recreation opportunities on the forest are still open for public use, including dispersed camping and other activities that support social distancing and small groups.”

Here’s the gist to all this; if you want to go to a high-visibility, well-trafficked, popular trail in one of these forest areas, then you can expect disappointment. It will be closed. I don’t have the space here to list every trailhead that is closed to the public, but you can find a detailed concise list on the USDA website above.

The Virginia State Parks are easier to make sense of. All of these parks are “open for day-use activities.” That means you are welcome to hike, bike and boat to your heart’s delight.

What you will find closed in the state parks will be all visitor centers, indoor facilities, overnight facilities, picnic shelters, playgrounds, restrooms, bathhouses and public beaches. So if you are taking the family out to the park, remember there will be no open bathrooms. Also, since the visitor centers are closed, you may want to download your own site maps and trail guides before you leave home.

Boat ramps are open during the day and accessible; however, certain parks have limitations on the number of vehicles in these parking areas to keep down the overall number of people. Again, it would be wise to call ahead.

We are also blessed to have a number of natural preserves in our region, several of which have great hiking trails available. These are all currently open for day use. Usually the trails at our nature preserves are a lot less trafficked than some of the popular park trails, and I highly recommend them. You can find details on each preserve at Virginia’s Department of Recreation’s website www.dcr.virginia.gov and choosing nature preserves.

The Department of Conservation and Recreation has a list of tips and guidelines listed on its website. I won’t list them all here, but I just have to give you my favorite tip: “If you are sick with any ailment, stay home.”

Let me offer my own personal tips: Get out of the house is No. 1. Go and enjoy the warm weather, the fresh air and some brisk physical exercise. Just stay away from people. I’ve been saying that for years … and now it seems to be in vogue.

This is not the time to visit those popular trail destinations. Choose your destinations wisely — the closer to home the better. Keep 6 feet away from others and at least 10 feet away from any bears.

But for God’s sake, get out of the house before you lose your sanity. Be safe, y’all and go get wild!

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