Wilderness and COVID-19
With the closure of offices, schools, restaurants, bars, stores, ski resorts, libraries and more and the cancellation of of all social events from yoga classes to club meetups, you might be wondering, "What CAN I do during the COVID-19 pandemic?"
Explore Wilderness Virtually
Stay home to best protect yourself and others. For those who are used to anytime access to our public lands, heed these sage words from an Outward Bound instructor. While at home, visit wilderness virtually by watching wilderness videos, following wilderness news, photos and videos on our Wilderness Connect Facebook page, connecting to nature through livestreaming nature feeds, or touring 31 national parks (many with wilderness) on google earth.
Have kids? Complete the free Wilderness Explorer Jr. Ranger activity booklet or the free Wild and Scenic River Jr. Ranger Flyer at home.
In recent days, we have seen increasing numbers of closures to visitor centers, ranger stations, shuttles, campgrounds, public bathrooms, state park systems, and popular designation National Parks and Monuments. Nearly half of all state governors have now issued stay-at-home orders limiting travel, and this number will likely continue to grow. So while many of our public lands, including wilderness areas, remain open at this time, recommendations to shelter-in-place are increasingly important and even more wide-spread closures may be likely. If you do choose to visit wilderness or other outdoor public spaces despite stay-at-home recommendations, take these critical precautions.
Critical Pandemic Precautions
- VERIFY CLOSURES: Check with the National Park Service, Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service or Bureau of Land Management office that manages the area you want to visit to ensure you get the most current public health information available on closures and restrictions. Generally, all indoor spaces, like visitor centers, are closed, along with recent park-wide closures at Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, and other parks. Although not wilderness, many state park systems, like parks in Oregon, are also closed to all access. Outdoor spaces at other national parks, national forests, and wildlife refuges remain open at this time, but this may change as infection rates climb and more states enact tighter stay-at-home orders.
- MAINTAIN SOCIAL DISTANCING: Consult these, and other, articles for good tips on maintaining social distancing while recreating in the outdoors: Oregon Live, St. George News, Gear Junkie and Trail Runner Magazine.
- STAY CLOSE TO HOME: Limit your stay in the backcountry to day or single overnight trips to ensure that if you become sick in the backcountry, you can self-evacuate without the need for search and rescue assistance, which can put rescuers at risk of virus exposure. Postpone extended backcountry trips, such as this Washington Post article on thru-hiking recommends.
- DON'T PUT RURAL COMMUNITIES AS RISK: Avoid popular destinations, and forget that appealing spring road trip (this constitutes non-essential travel). Small rural communities don't have enough health care equipment and services to deal with a deluge of sick tourists. If you do travel, be as self-sufficient as possible by limiting or eliminating your interactions with local tourism industry services--gas stations, hotels, rest stops, grocery stores etc. along the way and in communities near wilderness. This means bringing ALL your own food, shelter, gas, and other necessities with you from home.
- PRACTICE LNT: Most federal employees are working from home, and volunteer groups are not hosting typical trail work or trash collection outings. Be extra vigilant about following Leave No Trace principles when in wilderness or any other outdoor public space.