Find a Trail and Some Peace of Mind

August 4, 2020

Thankfully, the outdoors is one place that’s not closed due to COVID-19. Our parks and trails provide valuable escapes, beautiful, serene places where we can care for body and mind – as long as we step off with a few precautions in mind.

Seek out sleeper trails. “Getting outside has been a great way for people to recharge during the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Deborah Goard, Stewardship Director for the Southeast Land Trust of New Hampshire. But as more people head to the woods, overcrowding can be an issue. Explore trails you haven’t visited or heard about. “This will help alleviate some of the pressure on popular, well-known trails.  It’s actually a good thing to do even when there’s not a pandemic,” she adds.

You can start looking for local trails on your town web site and by searching for local land trusts in Maine or New Hampshire. “Between local land trusts and town properties, there may be more local options than you think,” says Goad. Find more Maine hikes at Maine Trail Finder and more N.H. trails at Trail Finder.

Plan alternate destinations. A jam-packed parking lot could signal that the trail is busy, making it’s harder to maintain a safe distance from other visitors. That’s where your backup plan comes in. “If you get to a trail and the parking lot is full, try another location,” suggest Goad.

 

Plan outings for quieter days. Not surprisingly, trails see less traffic Monday through Thursday. If you can, head for the trails on these days, says the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.

Read and follow signs. When you reach the trailhead, follow posted rules. Park where indicated, stay on marked trails, and be respectful of others. All of this helps land stewards maintain trails, protects fragile habitats, and preserve positive relationships with owners of neighboring properties.

Keep your distance. Avoiding close contact is one of the best ways to help avoid spreading COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Controls recommends that when you’re outside, you keep a distance of at least 6 feet – about two arms’ lengths – between you and people who don’t live in your household. Keep this in mind in parking lots and on the trail, where you might have to step off to let others pass at a safe distance along the way. Choosing loop trails instead of those that require out-and-back keeps you flowing along with other hikers so it’s easier to stay a safe distance apart. If you bring your dog to a property that welcomes pets, keep him closely leashed as you pass. This way there’s no need to approach fellow hikers to retrieve your dog if he runs up to greet them.

Pack right. Bring a face covering just in case you encounter a high-traffic area on a trail or a parking lot full of hikers. Bring a map and if possible, a GPS device. Even experienced hikers can get turned around and lose the way, so it’s best to be prepared. Pack hand sanitizer, and use it before you drink from your water bottle and when you get back to the car.

A little planning will go a long way to helping you make the most of the amazing natural areas we are so lucky to live near. As Mark Zankel, executive director of The Nature Conservancy in New Hampshire says: “Nature is an ally through this difficult time: it has the power to soothe, calm, uplift and restore. Although we must observe social distance, we can keep nature close and keep ourselves, our families and our communities safe.”