Thursday, April 2, 2020

NYS elaborates on COVID-19 recreation policy

hiker on Giant MountainThe state has launched a new #RecreateLocal hashtag and issued guidance that encourages people to recreate responsibly, practice social distancing, and stay near their homes during the COVID-19 outbreak, according to a recent press release.

The guidance includes recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state Department of Health for reducing the spread of infectious diseases.

The state is trying to reduce crowding on public lands and reduce the potential number of backcountry rescues for local and state emergency responders.

“Following this guidance will prevent unnecessary burdens on, and dangers to, state resources and local responders during the ongoing COVID-19 response,” says the joint press release from the state Department of Environmental Conservation and state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Conservation.

The new state guidance was issued over the weekend and comes roughly a week after the Adirondack 46ers, Adirondack Mountain Club, and town of Keene asked hikers to stay home, or hike locally, and avoid unnecessary travel. On Saturday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a travel advisory for New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, asking people to refrain from all non-essential travel.

But if public lands are near your home, the state says it’s still okay to use them if you are responsible and follow the current coronavirus guidelines.

“Getting outdoors to walk, jog, hike, ride a bicycle, fish, or visit a park or state lands is a healthy way to stay active, spend time with immediate household family members, and reduce stress and anxiety when practicing social distancing,” said the press release.

Below is a list of steps the DEC and the parks department is taking to reduce the spread of COVID-19:

  • Closing all playgrounds;
  • Camping changes: all state-operated campgrounds, cabins, and cottages are closed to overnight visitation through April 30. All visitors with reservations will be issued a full refund. New York State has also suspended all new camping, cabin and cottage reservations for the 2020 season until further notice. They are assessing campground status on a daily basis. If you’ve made reservations for the season beginning May 1, and it is determined your campground is safe to open, your reservation will be honored. However, visitors who wish to cancel an existing reservation may do so and receive a full refund.
  • DEC is closing access to DEC-controlled fire towers to the public. Trails and the summits to the towers remain open, but the towers themselves present a potential risk with multiple people climbing the stairs, in close quarters, unable to appropriately socially distance, and using the same handrails; and
  • Limiting parking: If the parking lot is full, the state is asking people to visit a different location to recreate responsibly. For visitor safety and the safety of others, the state asks people not to park on roadsides and only park in designated parking areas.

DEC and state Parks also encourage visitors to state parks and lands to adhere to the following guidelines.

  • Stay local and keep visits short;
  • Visit in small groups limited to immediate household members;
  • Maintain distance from others while in places where people tend to congregate, such as parking lots, trailheads, and scenic overlooks;
  • Avoid playground equipment like slides and swings and other frequently touched surfaces;
  • If you arrive at a park and crowds are forming, the state asks that you choose a different park, a different trail, or return another time/day to visit; and
  • If parking lots are full, do not park along roadsides or other undesignated areas. To protect your safety and that of others, please choose a different area to visit, or return another time or day when parking is available.

The state is also asking people to follow CDC and DOH guidelines for preventing the spread of colds, flu, and COVID-19:

  • Stay home if you are sick, or showing or feeling any COVID-19 symptoms, such as fever, coughing, and/or troubled breathing;
  • Practice social distancing by keeping at least six feet of distance between yourself and others, even when outdoors;
  • Avoid close contact, such as shaking hands, hugging, or high-fives;
  • Wash hands often or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol when soap and water are not available; and
  • Avoid unnecessary contact with surfaces that are often touched, such as doorknobs and handrails.

The state says New Yorkers over 70 years old or with a compromised immune system should not visit public spaces, including those outdoors. These New Yorkers should remain indoors or spend time in the backyard or other personal outdoor space, pre-screen visitors by taking their temperature, and require visitors to wear masks.

New Yorkers who are sick or have had contact with someone who is sick in the last 14 days should stay home and spend time in the backyard or other personal outdoor space. Do not visit public outdoor spaces.

The state is reminding visitors to the Adirondack and Catskill Parks to follow the Hiker Responsibility Code and avoid busy trailheads. Find the trails less traveled and visit when trails may not be as busy during daylight hours. DEC also encourages New Yorkers to be safe and sustainable when recreating outdoors.

The state says you can protect natural spaces when exploring outdoors by following the seven principles of Leave no Trace. Additional information is available on the DEC website.

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Mike Lynch is a staff writer and photographer for the nonprofit Adirondack Explorer, the regional bimonthly news magazine with a focus on outdoor recreation and environmental issues. Mike’s favorite outdoor activities include paddling, hiking, fishing and backcountry skiing. In 2011, he paddled the 740-mile Northern Forest Canoe Trail from Old Forge to Fort Kent, Maine. From 2007 until 2014, Mike worked as an outdoors writer and photographer for the Adirondack Daily Enterprise in Saranac Lake. Mike welcomes story ideas and can be reached at

5 Responses

  1. Wren Hawk says:

    And yet there’s been unbridled promotion of open fishing? People talking about driving to their favorite popular stream, groups and tourism centers pushing it. Why no guidance/suggestion to fish near home?

  2. Boreas says:

    “Avoid unnecessary contact with surfaces that are often touched, such as doorknobs and handrails.”

    What about necessary surfaces such as trailhead registers and porta-johns? I would like to see DEC make a statement about how to sign in to a trail register without leaving virus behind. Or should registers simply be bypassed for a few months? I would suspect many people are bypassing them now. Could signing in be avoided by leaving an itinerary listing party size, etc. on the dash of your car? Perhaps a PDF file designed by the state could be downloaded and filled out for each vehicle. Just some thoughts.

  3. Chris says:

    “Could signing in be avoided by leaving an itinerary listing party size, etc. on the dash of your car? Perhaps a PDF file designed by the state could be downloaded and filled out for each vehicle. Just some thoughts.”

    Great idea.

  4. SNAPPER PETTA says:

    Saw the information below. I just cut & pasted it from an Explorer article:

    Below are the DEC’s recommendations:

    Only one person per group should register. Others in the group should stay away from the register.
    If someone is at a register when you approach, stand at least six feet away and wait for them to leave before you approach.
    Bring your own pencil or pen.
    Minimize touching surfaces.
    Carry hand sanitizer and use it immediately before and after using the register.
    Don’t cough or sneeze while at the register. If you must cough or sneeze, move away from the register and hand sanitize before returning.

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