May 28, 2020
“Now more than ever,” is an oft -used cliché, but just now it truly describes our need to get outdoors for recreation and exercise. With the stress of the pandemic, and the closure of many of the places we are accustomed to go to for exercise or entertainment, it is imperative that we find safe ways to get out of the house and stir our bones.
Living in Vermont, we are fortunate to have a wide variety of outdoor recreation spaces very close by. Retiring here after 40 years in the Washington, D.C. area, my wife Phyllis and I revel in the easy access to a wide variety of walks. We can stroll down country roads past open fields and farmhouses admiring the early blooms in the gardens, huge sows with their young piglets, and cattle being rotated through grazing sections of the meadows. Or we can head up Texas Hill to the beaver ponds looking for the red-winged blackbirds. Off the roads, we can hike the steep trails in the Town Forest, the deep-in-the-woods trails in the LaPlatte Headwaters or the meandering trails through the thickets in Geprags Park. A short distance away, we can enjoy pond-sidewalks at Shelburne Pond or along Gillett Pond, the riverside trail in Richmond and the networks of paths at Shelburne Farms or Mount Philo, to name but a few local options. Back in Washington, we used to have to hike the crowded Chesapeake and Ohio Canal towpath over and over because it was about the only easy-access trail for exercise close to home. What a welcome change it is to explore the abundance of resources we have here!
So, get out this spring and get some air.
For some the benefit will be the thrill of strenuous exercise running or biking. For others just the aerobic effect of getting a couple or more miles under our feet at a comfortable pace will suffice. Phyllis and I sometimes dawdle, taking in the changing spring vegetation, the returning birds, the emerging reptiles, and other roadside or trailside attractions, or talking with people at an extra safe outdoor distance. Repeating the same walk every few days allows us to observe the excruciatingly slow roll into early spring (it is snowing again today as I write this), which we trust will soon accelerate into wild blooming in June. There is a lot to look at in our beautiful countryside that provides a much-needed daily interlude far away from constant updates on politics and disease.
Aside from working in your yard or garden, hitting the trails is one of the safest things you can do outdoors.
By observing some rules of social distancing, we can make it almost 100% safe from contagion.
Take a mask and put it on if you encounter people. This will offer them some protection from your breath and will make them more comfortable and relaxed. Pass others at a wide distance, at least six to 10 feet. Conventional wisdom is that droplets in breath fall to the ground within six feet when exhaled in still air. Outdoors, there is good news and bad news. The air is often moving which can blow away and dilute breath, which is good, but it also can carry particles more than six feet. Runners and bikers who are steaming along can pant out moist breath with more force and projection than those of us who are not exerting ourselves. Those moving faster also create a swirl of air behind them which might loft exhaled breath. All the more reason to pass wide. People walking on a trail tend to follow the course of least resistance, which is close to the center of the trail, stepping aside only a couple of feet to let others pass. This is fine in normal times, but for now we have to change this behavior. If one is vigorous enough to be out hiking a trail, presumably one should be vigorous enough to move far enough off the trail to allow a safe passage. It is, after all, the “great outdoors” and, unlike a supermarket aisle, it is large enough to give us plenty of room for wide separation. Finally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says animals can carry the virus and should be subject to the same social distancing as humans. Dogs must be on a leash when out in public spaces and must be held back at least six feet from those they pass.
Most trails are now open, but we ask that you avoid wet trails if we get more rains. The Hinesburg Town Forest Economou Road entrance is closed due to logging operations through June 1. Additional restrictions and status information may be found online at the TrailHUB Vermont site. Trail maps may be found online at the town website at hinesburg.org/hart.html and can be downloaded onto computers for home printing or smartphones for viewing in the field, but few are available at the trailhead kiosks.
Looking ahead, the Town Trails Committee hopes to resume printing and distributing maps to the trailheads very soon. We also would like to celebrate National Trails Day on Saturday, June 6 with the traditional groups of volunteers going out to clear up and improve certain trails (with proper social distancing), but we are not yet sure if this is feasible. If plans go forward, notices will be posted on Front Porch Forum.
So, spring is here; go out, have fun, exercise your bodies and minds in the fresh air. But, please, also exercise some caution in social distancing.