During the pandemic, is it possible to ethically recreate? Industry, safety experts weigh in

Ralph Reina rides the Wire Mesa Trail above Rockville, Utah, Feb. 29, 2020 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News

ST. GEORGE —  With restaurants, movie theaters, entertainment venues and even city parks shutting down due to health mandates surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, more and more people are flocking to the outdoors to both relieve stress and to recreate.

Photo courtesy of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, St. George News

But as towns and counties bordering state and national parks start to push back, asking people who are not local to stay home and even closing some parks to all visitors, it begs the question: Can people ethically recreate outdoors during a time of pandemic? And if so, how?

First and foremost, Kevin Lewis director of the Greater Zion Convention and Tourism office, said, we have to think beyond our own bubble.

“I may not have concerns for myself,” Lewis said regarding the coronavirus, “but others might be concerned.”

It is essential, he said, to take the time to think about the health and safety of others.

One way to do that is by staying local.

Red Rock Bicycle spokesman Joey Dye said that though half the fun of cycling is traveling to new places and riding other people’s trails, now is not the time for that.

“Stay local, ride your own stuff,” he said.

Gunlock State Park waterfalls, Gunlock, Utah, March 17, 2020 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News

Lewis added additional ways to be respectful of others, including not going out to recreate when you are sick, not congregating in groups and maintaining a 6-foot distance between anyone not from your household, otherwise known as social distancing.

“Be sensitive to other people’s spaces,” Lewis said.

Washington County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue Liaison Darrell Cashin said there are thousands of acres of outdoor space in the county in which to recreate away from other people.

“I am sure we can find space to stay 6 feet away,” Cashin said. “Just be courteous.”

Along those lines, Lewis encouraged people to “find the spaces in between.”

What that means, he said, is to avoid the highly traveled places where people have a tendency to congregate.

Lewis said the area has so many beautiful outdoor spaces that are equally as rejuvenating as some of the more popular spots like state parks and well-known recreation areas.

Cashin said he was particularly concerned about the number of people visiting Gunlock State Park to see the waterfalls created by the spillway overflow.

“I would hope that people would keep their spacing and not go through the water,” he said.

In 2019, there were several rescues, including one death, at the falls and Cashin does not want to see that happen ever, but particularly during this pandemic.

A sign telling visitors to Snow Canyon State Park that the park is open only to Washington County Residents, Snow Canyon State Park, Utah, March 28, 2020 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News

As part of Gov. Gary Herbert’s “Stay Safe, Stay Home” directives on March 27, he asked that visitors to state parks like Snow Canyon and Sand Hollow be limited to residents of the counties in which the parks are located. That directive was upgraded to a state order Wednesday and will be enforced.

The governor’s directive also included language which discouraged people from gathering in large groups or congregating at trailheads.

For Dye, that means putting a hold on riding with his buddies and organizing bike rides led by Red Rock Bicycle employees.

“If you are riding with a big group of people, you are not social distancing,” he said. “If you don’t live with them, you probably shouldn’t be riding with them right now.”

Be more passive, be more prepared

Lewis has a son who is currently quarantined in a small flat in England, he said. In order to spread some positivity he is using social media to share a favorite poem each day of quarantine. The first poem his son shared, Lewis said, was Walt Whitman’s “When I heard the Learn’d Astronomer.”

The poem describes the feeling of learning about the stars through lectures, figures, charts and diagrams.

“How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,” the poem reads.

Whitman then describes the shift in feeling when actually looking up at the stars.

The entire poem is as follows:

When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

Inspired by the poem, Lewis said that now should be a time to slow down and see nature in a more calm way, he said.

“Look up at the stars, observe nature,” Lewis said. “Be a passive participant in the outdoors.”

He added that now is not the time for people to be aggressive recreationists.

Cashin agreed.

“Now is the time to pare back your goals a little bit,” he said. “Don’t be too risky.”

Hollie Reina rides the Tukupetsi Trail in Santa Clara, Utah, Jan. 1, 2020 | Photo by Ralph Reina, St. George News

For Dye, that doesn’t necessarily mean staying off the technical trails. It does, however, mean staying focused and not letting your guard down, he said.

“I don’t think cycling is inherently dangerous,” Dye said. “That is not how most of us ride. We all know what we can ride and what we can’t ride.”

Dye added that each rider has to decide what is right morally for them, but added that maybe now is not the time to be pushing the envelope.

Beyond scaling back, Cashin said it is also critically important that people who do choose to recreate go out prepared for any eventuality.

“Make sure you have plenty of supplies,” Cashin said.

Cashin said people should have a jacket and an additional light source other than their phones, among other supplies.

“Just take the extra steps,” Cashin said. “Don’t make the mistake of thinking it can’t happen to you.”

Cashin said that almost every rescue he and his team have ever been on was someone who thought it would never happen to them.

Search and Rescue is a critically needed service, and though Cashin said they will continue to respond to emergency calls, he does have concerns about the health and safety of his crew during this pandemic.

“Everyone’s going out, I know that,” Cashin said, adding that every time they respond to a rescue now, there is the additional threat of coming into contact with the coronavirus.

To that end, search and rescue is asking that people who call 911 identify to dispatch if they are sick or feeling ill so they can be properly prepared with masks and other personal protection equipment.

“We’re still coming, we’re still responding,” Cashin said, “but we are doing it a little smarter and a little safer.”

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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