For those Vermonters flocking to the great outdoors during the new coronavirus pandemic, remember: It’s still mud season.
Officials with the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources are reminding residents to make smart choices to protect each other and their natural surroundings.
An exception to Gov. Phil Scott’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order during the COVID-19 pandemic allows for Vermonters to go outside for fresh air and exercise. Recently, Scott encouraged Vermonters to participate in outdoor activities that adhere to social distancing and hygiene guidelines.
As the state continues to slowly reopen, Vermonters can also leave home for limited social interactions and gatherings of 10 or fewer, preferably in outdoor settings, Scott announced last week.
Are Vermont’s trails open yet?
Because of muddy conditions, some trail closures may remain in effect for several weeks, according to the Natural Resources Agency.
The Green Mountain Club is working to get the trails ready to open in time for the traditional kick-off of hiking season on Memorial Day weekend, the agency said.
“They are asking hikers for their patience and help in stewarding the trails as the hiking season gets up and running,” the agency wrote in a news release.
In the meantime, the club is asking everyone to avoid using the Long Trail, Appalachian Trail, side trails, and facilities until further notice. The trails and facilities on state lands are currently closed.
Forest Service officials in Vermont are also restricting overnight camping at designated campgrounds and shelters, in line with health and safety guidance. Additionally, the Forest Service is prohibiting the use of backcountry privies along the Appalachian Trail and Long Trail segments on the Green Mountain National Forest, the news release stated.
What other tips should Vermonters keep in mind?
The Natural Resources Agency provided the following tips for hiking during mud season:
- Avoid the mud and closed trails. Before heading out on the trails, check www.trailfinder.info to find open trails close by. When hikers walk on saturated soils or on the sides of trails, they cause damage to surrounding vegetation, widen trails, and inhibit natural drainage, the agency said. To protect soil susceptible to erosion and surrounding vegetation, agency officials ask that hikers respect signs saying trails are closed and avoid muddy trails even if they aren’t closed.
- Use your best judgement. Hikers should turn around if they encounter conditions for which they are not prepared. Especially during the pandemic, emergency responders and medical providers do not need the additional burden of a search and rescue operation or treating a hiking-related injury, the agency said.
- Vermonters: Stay in Vermont. The agency is encouraging hikers and outdoor enthusiasts who live in Vermont to stay here for outdoor recreation during the pandemic. They’re also asking those who live outside Vermont to hold off on visiting the state for recreational activities. “If you do visit, please self-quarantine for at least 14 days after arriving in Vermont before engaging in any activities,” the agency said.
- Keep your distance. Maintain at least a six-foot distance from others wherever you go.
- Wear a cloth mask or face covering any time others are likely to be present, even while running or biking. The agency said keeping it ready is okay if it can be quickly and safely pulled over the nose and mouth before you come within six feet of others.
The agency also recommended the following etiquette while on the trails:
- Know when to go. Early mornings and evenings tend to be less crowded. If the parking lot is busy upon arrival, find another trail.
- Let others know you’re nearby. Everyone should yield to everyone right now and the agency recommends making some noise as you approach others, such as saying, “Hello.” Slow down if you’re coming up quickly behind a slow walker, or step back to allow space if someone is getting too close.
- Step off the trail, if needed. If the trail isn’t wide enough to pass with 6 feet of space, the agency recommends stepping off the trail at a 90 degree angle and being careful not to tread on plants. Once the person or group has passed, retrace your footsteps back to the trail.
- Keep single file. When you allow someone to pass, step to the side and stay put, the agency says.
- Don’t stand across the trail to chat.
- Do not gather in groups before or after activities. Embrace an “arrive, play and leave” mentality.
- Set expectations for children before leaving the car. Remind them not to run up to people or dogs, to sneeze or cough into their elbows, and, for children older than age 2, to use face coverings.
Contact Elizabeth Murray at 802-651-4835 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @LizMurrayBFP.
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