Many people in Maine are turning to the outdoors to boost their morale and health during the COVID-19 pandemic. This, state officials say, is a good idea — as long as it’s done with social distancing in mind.
“Getting fresh air and stretching your legs is something everyone needs to do during this challenging time,” said Andy Cutko, director of the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands. “Maine people are achieving this with walks in their neighborhoods and visits to local parks and trails.
State parks in Maine are seeing more visitors than is normal for this time of year. And some especially high-traffic outdoor destinations, such as Acadia National Park, the Appalachian Trail and some state parks in the midcoast and southern Maine, have effectively closed to be in compliance with state and local orders. But that doesn’t mean you have to stay home.
So how can you enjoy the great outdoors of Maine and still practice good social distancing?
The following recommendations, edited for clarity, were released today by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, which include the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands.
— Have a plan B (and C). If your first destination has a busy parking lot, go to the next spot on your list.
— Get outside earlier or later in the day to avoid peak visitation times, and keep your visits brief.
— Recharge in your backyard and neighborhood. Backyard adventures in the time of coronavirus are an excellent idea. Remind friends and neighbors to stay safe by tagging Instagram pics with #backyardpark.
Things to consider before you go outside
— If you are exhibiting symptoms related to COVID-19, or if you have recently been exposed to COVID-19, stay home.
— Stay at least 6 feet away from other people.
— If you do decide to go for a hike, remember that trails are likely to be slippery from ice and mud, which can increase the difficulty level. Stick to easy trails to avoid injuries and further stress on health care resources.
— Be sure to tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be back.
— Be prepared for limited access to public restrooms (use the bathroom before you leave home).
— Always leave no trace. This includes cleaning up after your pet, so be sure to bring a disposable bag to carry out any waste.
— And remember that it’s tick season. Protect yourself by wearing light-colored pants, closed-toe shoes and applying EPA-approved bug repellent.
Things to consider before you go to the beach
— Remember that shorebirds need the beach, too. Walk close to the water on the lower beach, so travel-weary birds can rest on the upper beach. Usually signs or people will alert you to bird nesting areas on Maine beaches, but due to the COVID-19 response, many of the normal posting and fencing efforts are delayed.
— Birdwatching can be a great way to pass the time and maintain wellness. Keep your distance so the birds feel safe.
— If pets are permitted on beaches, keep them leashed and away from birds.
— Remove trash and food scraps, which attract animals that might eat piping plovers and their eggs.
“I think the message is go outside and enjoy nature, fish, watch birds, whatever, just don’t do it in groups,” said Judy Camuso, commissioner of the MDIF&W. “Practice physical separation-social distancing while experiencing the outdoors.”
Maine state parks are currently open for day use only, with limited staffing and curtailed services.
“Many of our southern and coastal parks are receiving heavy use, with limited seasonal staffing and restroom facilities,” Cutko said, “so if you are going to an outdoor destination, please consider the less popular locations.”
Updates relating to COVID-19 are being posted at park entrances. In addition, the bureau is asking everyone to check parksandlands.com to read the latest updates before visiting a park or any other state-owned property. For MDIF&W updates related to the pandemic, visit mefishwildlife.com/covid19.