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The past week has seen multiple public parks and forests announce closures of outdoor areas in response to overcrowding deemed unsafe by land managers in light of coronavirus concerns.

On March 24, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park closed all of its roads and trails to visitation after a weekend in which more than 30,000 people visited the park daily, often converging on popular locations. Dupont State Recreation Forest followed suit following a similarly busy weekend. The Blue Ridge Parkway closed the southernmost portion of its length, and the National Forests in North Carolina announced closure of all OHV trails.

Outdoor recreation is a great way to get out of the house during quarantine time, but here are some rules of thumb to keep your day in the sunshine from causing the virus to spread or prompting more public lands closures.

  • Particularly if you’ve found yourself out of a job, it might be tempting to make hiking part of your daily routine, but try to dial back the frequency from what you’d prefer in order to avoid contributing to overcrowding. Try running or walking in your own neighborhood whenever possible.
  • Avoid areas you know to be popular and well known. If you arrive at a trailhead only to find that it’s full of cars, leave. Seek out a lesser-used area to enjoy the outdoors instead.
  • Enjoy the outdoors in small groups of just two or three people, and preferably limit the group to the people in your immediate household.
  • Maintain at least 6 feet of distance between yourself and others.
  • If you feel sick — even a little bit — don’t go out. Stay home until you’re back to 100 percent.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water as soon as you get home, and bring hand sanitizer to use while you’re out, especially before eating. Avoid touching your face.
  • Don’t pet other visitors’ dogs or let other visitors pet your dog.
  • Services are reduced in many areas, so it’s more important than ever to practice Leave No Trace principles. Pack in all the food or equipment you’ll need for your outing, and pack it out when you leave, including any and all waste.
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