Special Report
Going Outdoors or Staying Inside
May 2020

Many people are turning to the outdoors to cope with the stress and concerns of the Corona Virus Pandemic. Volunteer groups may also be considering offering outdoor activities to the public to address this public use. But is this a good idea? Not really. Here is the rationale for why we need to encourage everyone to stay home and stay local.

Short Term Issues
The immediate effort nationwide is to prevent the spread of the Corona virus. This is being accomplished by requesting, and in some states demanding, that people self-quarantine, maintain social distancing, and practice good hygiene practices. Non-essential businesses where large number of people congregate like restaurants, theaters, bars, and gyms have been closed. Sporting events of all types have been cancelled and venues closed. State and local parks, some National Forest recreation sites, and National Parks are being closed as well. These closures initially were intended to last 2-3 weeks but may extend for 4-6 weeks or longer depending on local infection rates.

For stewardship organizations this strategy has meant cancelling meetings, trainings, and outdoor events for the near term. Volunteer activities can be expected to be curtailed for several months. While generally access to dispersed areas like wilderness is open, some popular trailheads may be closed to prevent people from congregating.

There has also been mixed messaging about going to the outdoors to escape the virus and other people. While we extoll the virtues of getting outdoors, what has happened instead is even more people seeking out these opportunities creating large crowds in popular areas. It is important that people stay close to home, and enjoy nature in their backyards, their neighborhoods, or at least for the time being, virtually. Protecting the health of our communities and avoiding strains on the medical infrastructure, especially in our vunerable rural areas, are critical right now.

This article says it all:  High Country News:  https://www.hcn.org/articles/covid19-as-covid19-spreads-how-do-you-ethically-get-outdoors/

Here are Leave No Trace suggestions for getting outdoors:  https://lnt.org/the-leave-no-trace-recommendations-for-getting-outside-amidst-covid-19/

Here are suggestions from the Outdoor Alliance on getting outside during this crisis.

Stewardship Group Coping Strategies

Groups around the country are adapting to the crisis situation.  Here are some ideas for your organization.

  • Review your plans for the year and postpone or reschedule events to June or later.
  • Consider doing training online or with video conferencing software like Zoom of GoToMeeting.
  • Consider adapting your recruiting from a national to a local area model. Impacts to travel and concerns over the spread of the virus will continue for months impacting broad recruitment area strategies.  Local recruitment may offer new opportunities for relationship building and capacity growth while providing needed employment stimulus locally.
  • Check in with your agency partners to see what current policies are and what resources they might have available. The Park Service has created a webpage for Partners during this crisis at:  https://www.nps.gov/subjects/partnerships/publichealthforpartners.htm
  • If you have existing agreements with agency partners, start discussing now how closures will affect recruiting and summer programs. Adjust your agreements as necessary.
  • The current stand down may result in additional year end fund availability. Never too early to start discussing future projects and potential agreements with agency partners to put these funds to good use.

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