As July Fourth holiday approaches, recreational activities open in most all states across the nation, offering countless outdoor options
By COLIN MCGUIRE
With the Fourth of July less than a week away, there is an extra emphasis on outdoor activities in the age of COVID-19 due to the open air as well as the ability to easily social distance. As such, a number of state parks have already opened while others plan to do so later this week, just in time for the holiday.
Jeffrey Lusk, executive director of the Hatfield-McCoy Regional Recreation Authority in West Virginia, said of the Hatfield-McCoy Trails last week that he understands the appeal when it comes to why families may seek out recreational getaways over the next couple months.
“This is a very good social-distancing type of vacation,” Lusk said. “It’s just you and your family on your ATV or UTV out there in the woods.”
In Fort Dodge, Iowa, COVID-19 prompted the city to create an “in-motion marathon” to get people moving, and it’s something the city now plans to reinstate every year.
Erin Habben, recreation technician for Fort Dodge, said participants had to complete 26.2 miles of movement in one month in order to receive a t-shirt and be entered into a giveaway for some prizes. Eighty-nine people participated, Habben said, including a child as young as 2 years old.
Habben also discussed summer youth softball and baseball leagues, and said that while they typically start in mid-May, opening days were pushed back due to COVID-19.
Habben said they are about 50 percent down in participation this summer, so they have changed the league format to accommodate the decrease. Kids now arrive and are separated into groups for 30 minutes of skills practice, and then the second 30 minutes are devoted to a pickup game.
Dr. Ryan Neuhofel, a family physician in Lawrence, Kansas, has been fielding a lot of questions from neighbors and patients about whether or not it is safe to allow kids to play in youth sports leagues this summer.
“I think especially with outdoor sports, it’s a reasonable risk to take,” Neuhofel said. “I do think youth sports serve a huge role in kids’ lives and their developments: physically, mentally, socially.”
Neuhofel’s 10-year-old son is on a baseball team this summer, and Neuhofel said it’s been great that his son “can go back and do some normal activities.”
Practices began on June 1, and games started the week of June 15. Only three or four kids can be in the dugout at once during games, Neuhofel said, and the rest of the players space out on the stands where parents would typically sit.
Neuhofel said that given what is now known about the virus and how it does not severely affect children, he believes it is a wise decision to let kids play sports. Neuhofel did add that outdoor sports are likely less risky than indoor sports, and that any sport carries some degree of risk for transmission of the virus.
“I think there’s an inherent risk here,” Neuhofel said.
He tells patients and inquiring neighbors to “do all you can to minimize that risk.”
“Our parks are being utilized extensively,” said Fairmont City Clerk Patty Monsen.
She noted there are five lakes in the Fairmont area, and Cedar Creek Park has been bustling with activity. The park has three 18-hole disc golf courses on it, and she has noticed more use this year than in prior years, which she attributes to COVID-19. She said more people are engaging in outdoor recreation because it’s in the open, and they have been cooped up at home for so long during the pandemic.
“It’s got nature trails, bike paths — it’s a really nice park,” she said of Cedar Creek Park. “It’s used a lot, but I feel like there’s a lot more people out utilizing the trails. I think that people are just getting out and doing more like that because of COVID.”
The city also owns Fairmont Aquatic Park, which is set to open on July 1. It has been closed because of COVID-19, Monsen added.
In North Dakota, state parks are open, including camping and restrooms, but most visitor centers are closed to the public. The Theodore Roosevelt National Park is open while its visitor center and campgrounds are closed.
While numerous events are canceled or postponed, recreation areas in state parks remain open, as do trails and boat ramps.
“The department has been working with our local and state partners to continue to open services system-wide based on the ND Smart Restart guidelines,” Andrea Travnicek, director of North Dakota parks & recreation department, said in a statement. “We are excited to be able to continue to offer opportunities for the public to enjoy the parks throughout the state as we work with park managers and health officials to evaluate best practices as conditions change.”
Group camping sites reopened June 23 and wildlife management areas remain open, along with boat ramps on the Missouri River.
Any non-essential travel to Canada, however, has been restricted.
In the buckeye state, most state parks and outdoor spaces remained open during shutdowns. While out exploring Ohio, people are asked to maintain social distancing, stay close to home and gather with less than 10 people.
Park visitors are welcome to hike, fish, boat, swim and picnic. Some marinas in the state are now open, including ramps, fishing piers, archery ranges, dog parks and golf courses.
The only park that has remained closed is Hocking Hills State Park, including the campground, cabins, and Old Man’s Cave, which is planned to reopen for the Fourth of July.
Heidi Hetzel-Evans, communications manager of Ohio State Parks and Watercraft, said the trails of the popular forest were very narrow and it would have been impossible to maintain social distancing while traveling them.
“We’ve redesigned the trails to become one-way trails, which we believe won’t just be safer for COVID-19, but we’re thinking long-term,” Hetzel-Evans said. “We think this may make our trail system in Hocking safer in general.”
She said state workers built new trails in Hocking Hills and replaced signs.
“Because of the ruggedness of the terrain, and it’s tough to get to those trails, much of that work had to be done by hand,” she said. “You certainly can’t take bulldozers into Hocking Hills because that would ruin the landscape that everyone wants to see. We had to do a lot of it the old fashioned way, a lot of walking in, carrying in hand tools, digging posts. Our staff has been extremely busy but also really hard at work so we could get Hocking Hills open to the public.”
For all parks, limited parking is enforced. If a lot is full, visitors must move on to a different area or return at a later time. Camping at all state parks must be done by reservation.
At most parks, there are limited restrooms and shower stations are open.
Hetzel-Evans said visitors are encouraged to call ahead and check with the park before you go if there are concerns. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources is also updating its website weekly with openings and closures.