ForestWatch Issues Guidelines for Visiting Public Lands: Social Distance and Avoid Impacting Communities

Santa Barbara, Calif. – Facing weeks of isolation, disruption, and stress, Californians are looking to our magnificent outdoor spaces to maintain physical and emotional health. The State’s stay at home order allows outdoor recreation, but this must be practiced with the utmost of care not to contribute to community spread of the COVID-19 virus, or put additional stress on under-resourced communities.

Officials closed dozens of state parks and state beaches because of crowding, and the Forest Service shut down “developed recreation facilities” in all of California’s national forests, including Los Padres. This means that all forest campgrounds are closed, but remote walk-in sites in the backcountry remain open at this time. For now, roads and trails in the Los Padres that are normally open this time of year remain accessible. Several national parks and monuments have also been shuttered at the urging of local communities to preserve resources and prevent contagion.

On the Central Coast, locally-operated parks, beaches, and trails remain open. “We can still go for a hike, run, or ride out on the trail, or camp in the backcountry or in dispersed sites,” said Rebecca August, advocacy director at Los Padres ForestWatch. “But we have an added responsibility to take extreme care not to put ourselves and others at risk while we’re out there having fun.”

This region has a wealth of natural outdoor spaces. Most communities are within reach of oak-forested trails, expansive beaches, or hills covered in chaparral and wildflowers beginning to bloom. These spaces can continue to be a source of healing and strength for our community if residents exercise the necessary discipline to maintain social distancing and sanitation.

“A little dose of nature could be really good for everyone,” says Bryant Baker, conservation director at Los Padres ForestWatch.

Before you go, visit Public Lands: What’s Open and What’s Closed for up-to-date information during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Below are some guidelines to help you better determine whether visiting public lands like the Los Padres National Forest is right for you, and if so, how to do it safely.

Seven Guidelines to Follow

  1. Stay at home if you feel sick, are experiencing any symptoms, or are in a high-risk group
  2. If you decide to visit the trails, stick close to home. Traveling through even nearby towns to access trails can have negative impacts including the spread of COVID-19—especially in under-resourced communities.
  3. If you notice a trailhead appears crowded or if the parking lot is full, turn around and head to a different trail that has fewer people. Overcrowding is the #1 reason for trail closures; this will help keep our trails open.
  4. Avoid unnecessary risk. Be aware that emergency services may be delayed if you get lost or in an accident. More importantly, requiring search and rescue puts emergency personnel at greater risk and taxes an already overburdened first responder and hospital network.
  5. Always maintain a minimum of six feet distance from other trail users. Wider trails and dirt roads are best. Announce yourself when there is less visibility. Hike with as small a group as possible—stick with just one hiking buddy or your immediate family. 
  6. Do not share food, or drinks with other trail users, or handle equipment or any item someone else may have touched. 
  7. Be prepared. Bathrooms, trash removal, and other services are likely to be suspended.

The above guidelines are in addition to the seven Leave No Trace principles that should always be followed when visiting public lands.

Read more at Protecting Yourself and Others on Public Lands During the COVID-19 Crisis 

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