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Sustainability Around the U

How to safely recreate now

View of valley and mountains

By Ayrel Clark-Proffitt, Sustainability Engagement Manager

We could all use a little adventure, especially after strictly following the State of Utah “Stay Safe, Stay Home” directive. But just as our everyday lives have changed in response to the COVID-19 public health crisis, the way we recreate must necessarily be different, too.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t go camping or take outdoor trips.

Under Project Orange guidelines, Outdoor Adventures, the U’s outdoor equipment rental and trips program, is expected to begin renting “hard goods” such as rigid and inflatable watercrafts (kayaks, paddleboards, and canoes), life jackets, bikes, and helmets on May 18. Rentals will be through reservation only, with scheduled pick-up and drop-off times, and must be paid by credit card. Tents, sleeping bags and pads, and other “soft goods” are not available at this time because of sanitation concerns. Check the Campus Recreation Services website for current updates.

Alli Hughes, co-manager of Outdoor Adventures, said going camping can be safe if you have “realistic expectations,” including continuing physical distancing and wearing a mask.

“You can go camping with those who are under your own roof or who you have been distancing with—it’s safer than opening it up to other friends,” Hughes said. “The other thing to keep in mind is if you know the location. Check the closures in advance. And if you are able, bring a mask—even cloth ones.”

Parks are reopening. For current status, check with Utah State Parks, the National Park Service, or use Outdoor Adventures’ trip planning site. Hughes points out that as parks reopen, they will go through a stabilization phase before returning to past levels of operation. Coronavirus impacts, such as staff reductions and loss of fees, will reduce services, including trash removal and bathroom cleaning, and affect park safety. There may not be rangers or other on-site staff to help with emergency calls. Additionally, any search and rescue calls force rescue professionals to break physical distancing guidelines, as well as increase hospitalizations. Hughes said that back country permits are largely unavailable, so going in those areas is also high risk.

Crowds should also be avoided. Many people will go to “family friendly” trails that are short and flat, so those who are able should look for alternate options, Hughes said. Trails are busiest during midday, so hiking early in the morning or after the afternoon rush will help goers maintain physical distancing.

Despite the need for increased safety measures, going on hikes or camping can provide an important release for those suffering from cabin fever. 

“I love the brain break provided by getting outside,” Hughes said. “When you get out of the city, you don’t see garbage or billboards. It gives your brain a minute to not be overwhelmed with everything in your environment, words, pictures, social media, and media in general. All of that goes away when you go outside. I like the peace it brings me.”

If you are planning a trip to the great outdoors, keep these tips from Hughes in mind:

  1. Go where you know: Services, including on-site support for contacting help, are limited. Stick to the locations you know best, and do not push beyond your own limitations.
  2. If feeling sick, stay home: Your health—and the health of others—is more important than going hiking or camping. If you have a fever or other symptoms, stay home and plan your next adventure.
  3. Stay at least 6 feet apart: When hiking or camping, maintain physical distancing of six feet or more from other people and groups. Wear a mask if possible.
  4. Avoid hiking at peak hours: Trails get crowded during the midday. Try going earlier or later in the day to avoid people.
  5. Practice leave no trace: Trash services are limited due to lack of staff and fees for maintaining waste removal. Remember to pack it in and pack it out.

Enjoy the outdoors—safely.