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Getting outside safely while staying at home

April 20, 2020

Now, more than ever, Minnesotans are heading outdoors to savor the sunshine and fresh air of spring. On a normal day, outdoor time is valuable for our general health and well-being, but in a time of quarantine and social isolation, it becomes even more essential for our immune systems, mental health and stress levels.

Here’s a quick review of what you need to know for getting outdoors safely.

Where can you go?

The Governor’s recent Executive Order asks you to stay as close to home as you can. If you have a backyard, porch or balcony, take advantage of the fresh air and the restorative benefits of getting outdoors. 

Getting away from your home for activities such as walking, running, fishing and hunting are allowed, as long as you maintain social distancing. The COVID-19 Outdoor Recreation Guidelines from the Department of Natural Resources encourages Minnesotans to “Explore the range of nearby public lands available to you.”

Don’t forget about county parks, state forests and other natural areas that may be less congested. If you arrive at a park’s parking area or a trailhead and find that it is busy, look for another option. Try visiting at off-peak times, typically early or late in the day. 

How should you act when you get there?

The most important thing is to maintain physical distancing, which is generally considered to be at least six feet from any non-household members. Make sure to wear a cloth mask when you're out, whether you think you'll run into other people or not. The mask protects others from you, though, so physical distancing is key.

  • If it is windy, if you are breathing hard, or if you're around others who are breathing hard such as cyclists or joggers, you’ll want to leave even more than six feet of space. Though scientists are still collecting evidence, new research suggests contaminated droplets can remain in the air.
  • If you are on a narrow nature trail, it can be impossible to give six feet of physical distance to other people you meet on the trail. Stepping off the trail can tear up the forest floor and harm fragile, new spring plant growth. Choose a wider route and familiarize yourself with the park’s regulations for off-path travel. 
  • Avoid taking risks. Even everyday risks and unknowns, such as car travel or cycling, are compounded during this time of quarantine. Crashes and preventable injuries take away critical resources from the COVID-19-strapped health care system. Take extra care and think twice about all your activities.
  • Don’t assume services will be available at your favorite nature destination. Bring your own water and snacks, use the restroom before you leave home, and pack out any trash. 

How far can you go?

You still may be wondering how to decide whether and how far to travel to visit favorite nature destinations, including cabins and lake homes.

The Governor’s recent order states, “Minnesotans should stay close to home and are strongly discouraged from unnecessary travel, including long-distance travel to engage in outdoor recreational activities and travel to and from cabins, commercial lodging, and vacation homes or rentals.” So, stick close to your primary residence. 

The Governor’s order reminds us that whatever Minnesotans do to enjoy the benefits of outdoor activities, the priorities are “providing for public health, slowing the spread of COVID-19, and decreasing the potential for added strain on local communities and health care systems.”

These rules won’t be in place forever, but they do still allow us to take advantage of our amazing and abundant green spaces.

Participating in the City Nature Challenge?

During the weekend of April 24-27, 2020 you can participate in the City Nature Challenge and join users from across the world to record a snapshot of the diversity of natural life in urban areas.

All Minnesotans are invited to use the iNaturalist app to record and share observations of nature to help document the diversity of living things around us. The 11-county metro area is the “City” in Minnesota’s City Nature Challenge event, but due to COVID-19, this year’s event has been modified to welcome observations from across the state. 

Luckily, the City Nature Challenge considers all types of nature to be worthy contributions, including specimens found indoors or out. DO report things like the spiders in your basement, the ants on the sidewalk, the weeds in your lawn, the moths that come to your porch light at night, and the creepy crawlies found under leaf litter. Boulevard trees count, too! DON’T include humans, pets, houseplants or garden plants you know were put there. 

Above all, make sure you’re following the guidelines in this article to stay safe and healthy while participating and have fun!

Andrea Lorek Strauss is an Extension educator based in Rochester, Minnesota.

Related topics: Natural Resources News
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