As we all navigate this current health crisis, spending time outside has become even more important for our mental and physical well-being.
When state lands began to reopen, the Washington Trails Association, state agencies and other organizations offered recommendations for reducing the risk to ourselves and others while still enjoying nature. The newly formed Washington Recreate Responsibly Coalition, which brings together more than 50 organizations, coalesced to simplify and amplify that guidance.
This has resulted in six tips that are easy to remember, follow and share — helping everyone #RecreateResponsibly. And the work of the Washington coalition has begun to help shape the national conversation.
Together, we can keep each other safe. Take the WTA’s pledge to follow these six tips when out on the trail.
“It became clear pretty quickly that there were a lot of similar conversations happening,” said Andrea Imler, Washington Trails Association’s advocacy director. “It made sense for us all to come together to agree on clear and consistent guidelines that everyone could use.”
The result is six quick tips to help reduce the spread of the virus, based on recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, public health guidelines and recreation experts.
Know before you go. Check the status of the place you want to visit. If it is closed, don’t go. If it’s crowded, have a Plan B.
Plan ahead. Prepare for facilities to be closed, pack lunch and bring essentials like hand sanitizer and a face covering.
Stay close to home. This is not the time to travel long distances to recreate. Most places are only open for day use.
Practice physical distancing. Adventure only with your immediate household. Be prepared to cover your nose and mouth and give others space. If you are sick, stay home.
Play it safe. Slow down and choose lower-risk activities to reduce your risk of injury. Search and rescue operations and health-care resources are both strained.
Leave no trace. Respect public lands and communities and take all your garbage with you.
The coalition — inspired by a love of the outdoors and a desire to help others safely experience the benefits of nature while ensuring that our public lands stay open — realized that harmonizing these simple guidelines would increase the understanding and awareness of these shared best practices across the state, and potentially beyond.
REI, one of the founding members of the Recreate Responsibly Coalition, has a reach beyond the state’s boundaries and quickly saw the potential to channel this energy nationwide. A nationwide campaign helped to spread the word before the Memorial Day weekend.
“Spending time outdoors has been important for many Americans during this public health crisis,” said Eric Artz, president and CEO of REI Co-op. “The #RecreateResponsibly coalition is an inspiring example of what’s possible in this state when organizations come together with a shared passion and a clear goal.
“By simplifying and amplifying guidance on how to recreate reasonably, we are keeping ourselves healthy, supporting our land managers and working together to keep our public lands open. This is a collaborative model we hope to see take off at the national level and in other states.”
The coalition recognizes this is a first collective step. As more of us get outside, and as governments update their COVID-19 policies, the guidance may need to be updated. In addition, different activities — climbing, off-roading, trail maintenance and restoration, for instance — may require additional protocols. The coalition hopes to synthesize and amplify that additional guidance for the benefit of the broader community, too.
The reality is that the impacts of this pandemic on recreation and public lands will be felt for months, and maybe years, to come. The quick, collective response of the outdoor community shows how a love of nature can bring us together.
It has become clear that natural spaces and the ability to enjoy them are not mere nice-to-haves. Access to nature is a key component to our nation’s health and well-being.
Long term, the Recreate Responsibly Coalition hopes that this growing recognition of the value of time spent outside will translate to an increased desire to be strong stewards for public lands well into the future.
“Washingtonians love exploring the beauty of our state, and the outdoor recreation economy is a key contributor to the state’s bottom line,” Imler said.
“I am hopeful that we can take the momentum of this coalition and the growing recognition of outdoor recreation as a public good and continue to find new and innovative ways for Washington to be a model for the nation when it comes to our public lands and enjoying them.”
Washington Trails Association promotes hiking as a way to inspire a people to protect Washington’s natural places. Get inspired to go hiking and learn how you can help protect trails at www.wta.org.