Responsible summer recreation: know before you go
May 27, 2020
In most years, Memorial Day marks summer rolling into full-swing on the Front Range. But this year, the three-day weekend undoubtedly was quite different locally with no Bolder Boulder, less long distance travel, smaller gatherings and barbecues and picnics hosted with social distancing in mind. And as people at a local and state level look forward to future summer plans, a fair question is how to best resume "normal" outdoor activities in public spaces.
Specifically as public land, parks, open spaces and campgrounds begin to reopen, there is still a big question about how to travel and get outside responsibly. On May 12, Colorado Parks and Wildlife announced that the Colorado state parks would begin a phased reopening of their campgrounds in coordination with park managers and local officials. Similarly, the National Park Service has announced individual parks will be working on phased reopenings, with Rocky Mountain National Park scheduled to start reopening on May 27.
But before you load up your RV, throw your tent in the car, or head off to your favorite high country trailhead, it's worth noting that these phased reopenings don't exactly mean business as usual. Here are a few key things to think about as you make your summer plans, courtesy of the Recreate Responsibly Coalition, a newly formed coalition of nonprofits, outdoor businesses, and land managers devoted to sharing the best practices for responsible recreation during COVID-19.
1. Know Before You Go
Call ahead to the park or campground, if you can. Information on park or land management websites may be outdated or inaccurate. For camping, be sure to ask if advanced reservations are required and what amenities are open.
2. Plan Ahead
Just because a park or campground is open, doesn't mean that you will have access to all the usual amenities. As the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website puts it, "Plan as if you are going to the moon." Lunar expeditions aside, many public facilities such as restrooms will likely remain closed even as parks reopen, so you will need to plan accordingly.
3. Practice Physical Distancing
Though this may be difficult at busy trailheads or crowded parking areas, try your best to be respectful of the 6-foot rule. While out on the trails or camping, give people plenty of space and bring a mask or other face covering. Boulder County Parks and Open Space recommends sticking to groups of four or less to help avoid overcrowding on the trails.
4. Play It Safe
This summer is probably not the time to push your limits or engage in high-risk activities. Don't enter closed areas or trails under construction. Give wildlife plenty of space. If you or a family member are not feeling well, stay home.
5. Stay Close to Home
If you are heading outside of a ten-mile radius of your house, consider how far of a drive you should be taking in the name of recreation. A slightly longer drive to reach a less crowded trailhead may be worthwhile. A cross-country roadtrip to all the National Parks is perhaps less advisable.
6. Leave No Trace
Now, perhaps more than ever, visitors should come prepared to practice Leave No Trace (LNT) principles. While a commonly known hiking and backpacking tenet is to pack out what you pack in, you may find that even a trip to your local park for a picnic may now necessitate packing out your own trash. Other best practices include staying on designated paths and trying to avoid walking off-trail too much. Though it can be difficult to maintain a 6-foot distance from others on a narrow path, whenever possible try to step off-trail on a rock or bare patch to let others pass.
Though outdoor recreation this year is going to be different and in some ways challenging, following these six principles will help ensure a safe experience for yourself and others and the responsible use of our public lands for this summer and, as a result, for many summers to come.