by Kelly Tolbert, Recreation Coordinator, City of Prescott
Parks and outdoor recreation facilities are experiencing record numbers of visitation, and it is wonderful to see so many people enjoying, many for the first time, our lovely park lands. Local bicycle shops and national chain stores are reporting trouble keeping enough inventory for demand.
Naturally, with increased participation comes an increase in lack of preparedness.
The Arizona Office of Tourism recently announced a Create Sustainable Tourism Partnership with the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. Arizona is only the second state to have formed a partnership with Leave No Trace, with the goal being working to “provide Arizona-specific sustainable guidelines to in-state and out-of-state travelers before they arrive and during their stay in Arizona.”
The following guidelines have been set forth by the Leave No Trace™ organization during COVID-19:
You and your outdoor world
You may be asking, “Can I go for a hike or walk on the beach right now?” Your personal vulnerability, the health of others in your community, access to local and uncrowded spaces, and more play into this decision. Then there are communities and states with either lockdown, shelter-in-place or stay-at-home mandates. Where COVID-19 is spiking, it may not be possible to get out at all, so pay close attention to guidance in your community before heading outside. Then follow physical distancing guidance, meaning staying at least 6 feet away from anyone not living with you.
As businesses limit services or direct their staff to work remotely, closures should be expected. The result could be a lack of water, restrooms, campgrounds or other facilities — or even entire areas — closed to the public. Many experts are recommending you refrain from using public restrooms and other open facilities at all right now. Take necessary precautions such as taking extra food and water, learning how to go to the bathroom outdoors and being ready to pack all your trash out with you.
Pack out your trash
With limited staff and services likely in many parks and protected areas, trash and recycling receptacles may not be emptied as often as normal, or at all. This can result in trash overflowing from receptacles, becoming litter and harming wildlife. Instead, pack your trash and recyclables out with you all the way home and use your own receptacles.
Avoid times and places of high use
Absolutely avoid crowded parks, trails and beaches. Physical distancing applies in the outdoors just as it does anywhere else. To avoid being part of the creation of large crowds and groups at popular outdoor areas, spread out to less popular spots, and avoid times of highest use if possible.
Proceed with caution
Keep in mind as our health care system becomes more overwhelmed, it’s important to reduce potential accidents that would add to the stress on first responders and medical professionals. As much as possible, stick to activities and areas within your regular routine, and take it easy.
Don’t forget the Leave No Trace seven principles
Just because times are tough doesn’t mean the Leave No Trace seven principles fly out the window. Our natural areas likely will be receiving less attention from staff and volunteers right now. This means our shared spaces need us to act as stewards more than ever. Remember, it is still just as important to prepare for summer weather conditions, stick to trails, dispose of waste properly, minimize fire impacts, leave what we find, keep a safe distance from wildlife and generally do our best to eliminate impacts.
Be considerate and kind to others
We are all in this together. Be considerate of others in the outdoors by ensuring you practice physical distancing. Be particularly kind to park staff during these challenging times. Help them do their job by doing your part to take care of each other and our beloved outdoors.
While these principles are extremely important during the COVID-19 pandemic, they are equally important anytime one finds themselves outdoors. Setting an example is crucial to future generations, and being a responsible land steward is invaluable to leading by example. For more information on Leave No Trace™ principles visit www.lnt.org; for the Arizona Office of Tourism go to www.visitarizona.com; or find the City of Prescott Recreation Services Department at www.prescott-az.gov/recreation-services.