Coronavirus in Vermont: Recreation paths get crowded as people head outside for exercise

If you’ve ventured to a nearby park or recreation path in the last several days, you may have noticed an uptick in the number of people around. 

“I am so happy for all of those getting their stress, energy, anxiety out with a run (myself included),” said Front Porch Forum user Jill Badolato in a post.

“But I’ve had too many runners the last week who are still doing that too-close-for-comfort maneuver and probably not even realizing it. If you run, please give people six feet as you pass.”

It’s easy to get caught up into a runner’s high or a fast pace without recognizing how close you are veering toward other pedestrians. 

“It’s harder to keep distances when a group of people stop and talk to each other,” said Phil Hammerslough, a resident of Burlington’s Old North End and a member of the city’s Walk Bike Council.  

On a usual ride or stroll along the Greenway, Hammerslough can expect to see 30 to 40 people within 10 minutes.

“At least you’re seeing community, you’re seeing people there,” he said.

Now those numbers may continue to rise as we more and more skateboarders, joggers, and inline skiers take to the paths. 

A stay-at-home order issued by Gov. Phil Scott went into effect Wednesday, urging people to stay home to reduce the spread of the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

People are urged to practice social distancing by avoiding gatherings and remaining six feet apart. Exercising is among the exceptions contained in the order to remain indoors.

Symptoms of COVID-19 can include fever, cough and breathing trouble. Most develop only mild symptoms. But some people, usually those with other medical complications, develop more severe symptoms, including pneumonia, which can be fatal.

More: Social distancing? Tips for hiking and walking outside during the coronavirus outbreak

Hammerslough’s suggestion is to implement car-free lanes on streets with little traffic, mirroring a proposal in New York City to close off portions of major streets so that pedestrians can have more space to move without cramming together.

“There were fewer cars on North Avenue than there were people on the bike path,” Hammerslough said about the popular road cutting through the Old North End. 

A walk along the Waterfront

Along the Burlington waterfront outlooking Lake Champlain, people could be found Friday morning jogging, skateboarding and walking on their own, or with their children or spouse.

Scattered around the 8-mile bike path were signs recommending pedestrians to commit to social distancing.

“I’ve just been getting out and getting some fresh air,” said Mike Wierzbicki, who works at Pure Pop Records in Burlington.

Since the state closure of Vermont businesses, including Pure Pop, last week, Wierzbicki said he’s just tried to keep busy by staying active, whether coming to the park to skateboard at Andy A_Dog Williams Skate Park, go on solo runs or use free weights at home. 

“You’d think I’d be better after all these years,” said Wierzbicki, 43, who has been skateboarding since he was in the second grade. Aside from Wierzibicki and one other person, the skate park was empty.  

“I definitely wasn’t going outside the first few days,” said Vivian Priestley of Burlington, who has stopped for a second on her jog along the bike path.

Not wanting to stay cooped up indoors all day, Priestley has been solo running or rollerblading with her roommate. While she hasn’t seen the path become overcrowded, she is more attentive of the people moving around the park than before. 

“It’s a good way to cohesively exercise with others, while keeping our distance.”

Contact Ethan Bakuli at (802) 556-1804 or ebakuli@freepressmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @BakuliEthan.

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