Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, April is still a time of transition from indoor, winter activities to outdoor spring and summer activities.
State Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn is calling on Pennsylvanians to take care of themselves — and outdoor areas — during social distancing.
“During this time of significant changes to our daily routines it’s clear that our need for and appreciation of nature is greater than ever,” Dunn said in a statement. “Outdoor activities are a great idea to relieve stress and as immunity boosters, but they should not include exposure to high-touch surfaces or other groups of people — we need to spread out.”
Dunn emphasized the need to stay six feet apart from other people who do not live in your household, even while on the trail.
If the parking area is crowded, Dunn said park visitors should find another location to start their hike to limit exposure.
“It’s not safe just because you are outdoors,” Dunn said. “You have to think about taking special precautions that you might take everywhere else.”
She also asked visitors to Pennsylvania’s 121 state parks to bring maps from home, if possible, instead of touching ones available to the public at the parks.
Since Gov. Tom Wolf ordered the closing of schools and non-essential businesses across the state in mid-March, Pennsylvania’s park system has been helping Pennsylvanians relieve stress, get exercise and provide a needed outlet.
From March 17 to 25, Presque Isle State Park in Erie saw an average 165 percent increase in visitation from the same dates last year, according to DCNR.
However, that increased visitation has had some significant consequences, especially since park rangers and personnel were deemed non-essential, cancelling park programs and closing facilities.
Photos posted by DCNR to Twitter show trash left behind by visitors and graffiti on park property.
With increase of visitors to #PAStateParks last weekend, we saw an increase of trash, dog waste & graffiti for limited staff to deal with. Be respectful of our natural resources. Whatever food, drinks or dog waste bags you take in, please take out. #LeaveNoTrace📷#NoldeForestEEC pic.twitter.com/foJqyBAFKd
— PA Department of Conservation & Natural Resources (@DCNRnews) March 26, 2020
In a video recording, Dunn asked visitors to stay on the trails, don’t trample plants, and to hike out anything they take in.
“It’s important that we respect nature at this time and take care of our public lands,” Dunn said.