East Fork Salmon River Trail.Weber_CMYK300.jpg

2017 Wilderness Stewards hike the East Fork Salmon River Trail.

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As more and more people are getting outside amid the COVID-19 outbreak, it’s important to remember to stay local, keep your distance from others, avoid unnecessary risks, and be respectful to Idaho’s public lands and each other.

Idaho Gov. Brad Little issued a statewide stay-home order on March 25 to last 21 days. Outdoor activity near your home is still allowed as long as you keep 6 feet apart from others.

In this time of social isolation and distancing in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19), many discussions have surfaced about self care. The CDC guidelines for managing anxiety and stress right now include taking care of your physical health. Take deep breaths, stretch, meditate, eat healthy, sleep, and get some exercise.

As people around Idaho adapt to the rapidly evolving COVID-19 situation, many are seeking the outdoors as a space to recreate, relieve stress, and exercise. Idaho has an abundance of trails and beautiful public lands to explore, but there are important health and safety measures that Idahoans should consider as they head out to hit the trails or slopes. First of all, if you’re sick, please stay home.

Stay local

Please use the trails and outdoor recreation opportunities near your home! Traveling at this time increases the risk of spreading COVID-19. Many are flocking to places like National Parks to find outdoor solace, but parks like Zion are experiencing an overwhelming increase in traffic. Also, it’s important to consider that local healthcare systems in smaller communities like Ketchum, Stanley and McCall are at risk of being overwhelmed with the increase in visitors, especially if visitors were to get sick. While it can seem tempting to schedule a mountain or desert getaway, Stanley, Owyhee County, McCall, and many other communities are asking people to refrain from visiting during the outbreak. Enjoy the sunshine in your own backyard, neighborhood or city.

Keep at least 6 feet apart from others

Even outdoors, it’s important to maintain a safe distance from others at this time. The CDC recommends keeping a distance of at least 6 feet since the virus can be spread to others from respiratory droplets when an infected person sneezes or coughs. When you encounter others on a single track trail, please pause, step off the trail, let others pass and manage a safe distance — but do not keep walking once you have stepped off the trail. It’s important for us to maintain these beautiful places we love, which includes avoiding accidentally widening current trails or creating new trails.

Hike at less busy times and/or seek out less popular trails

Communities across the nation are having to shut down trails and parks because they are getting too busy. Your favorite trail is likely to be busier than usual, and we need to avoid overcrowding popular trailheads to ensure proper social distancing. Before you head out, consider the typical traffic on the trail of your choice. If it’s usually pretty busy, consider trying a new trail or visiting when foot traffic tends to be lower (like early in the morning). As always, make sure that a friend or family member knows your destination and expected time of return, especially if you’re exploring new trails.

Looking for alternatives to your go-to trail? In the Treasure Valley, check out the Ridge to Rivers interactive map for new ideas. In the Wood River Valley, many trails are still snow-covered so check out the Blaine County Recreation District interactive winter trail map for ideas on where to cross-country ski or snowshoe. For folks who live in North Idaho, check out this resource to explore hiking trails in your area.

Be safe in the backcountry (or don’t go)

With all ski resorts closed for the season, some people are now looking toward the backcountry for their skiing pursuits. First and foremost, do not venture into the backcountry unless you have the proper gear and experience. Even if you are properly prepared, please consider the potential risks of your backcountry activities. With the strain on our emergency systems and medical professionals, especially in rural communities, we need to be mindful of our decisions to take unnecessary risks and expose ourselves to avalanches and other hazards.

This is not the time to learn how to backcountry ski or ski that steep line deep in the backcountry. Dial back your expectations and objectives to minimize the risk of injury. We recommend backcountry users follow recent guidance from the Sawtooth Avalanche Center.

As always, practice Leave No Trace principles and respect our public lands

Now more than ever it is vital to practice Leave No Trace principles and be respectful to Idaho’s abundant trail systems. This includes not hiking on muddy trails, not blocking trails, being respectful to other patrons and more. 

We know that many of you (our staff included) look to the outdoors for solace, exercise, and solitude during these trying times. We encourage you to continue to do so while taking care to follow the best practices laid out by medical experts and local officials. Please check your local national forest and public lands for latest updates and closures.

Enjoy the fresh air and the trails (with proper social distancing), be kind to those who you may meet on the trails, and above all else, stay safe and healthy!

Josh Johnson is a conservation associate with the Idaho Conservation League.

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