The COVID-19 pandemic has affected our lives in numerous ways, this includes how people spend their leisure time. More recently, we have noticed that social outings are occurring more in outdoor spaces since it provides a safe way to interact with friends and family. Below are some of the main ways that parks have been negatively impacted and what you can do to help.
We have noticed that parks and campsites in our area have more visitors than they have in the past. Additionally, there have been reports of this happening in parks from rangers and visitors across the US, including: Big Bend National Park in Texas, Great Falls Park in Maryland, and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area in Utah and Arizona. People are going out and exploring the outdoors for the first time, buying RV's and campers, and spending their weekends in campsites rather than hotel or resort vacations.
Out of State Visitors
It is especially surprising to hear that there are continues to be crowds of out of state visitors flocking to the parks. At parking lots in Vermont, we are seeing lots of license plates from Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and New York. A frequent visitor of Rocky Mountain National Park commented on the large crowds and that she is now seeing nearly "75% out of state cars" wheres before it was mainly Colorado license plates. Although being outside is safer than being inside with regards to contracting COVID-19, it doesn't give us permission to travel freely by car.
More people means more trash! Have you noticed more trash at your local parks? We definitely have. This past weekend at our Waste Free Earth Clean up at Leddy Beach we noticed a lot of trash around the trails and beach area. This is happening all around the country but a specific example was reported to the bay journal by a ranger at Virginia State Park. Illegal all terrain vehicle use, trash dumping, and boulders thrown from landmarks were just some of the destructive things that occurred at the Virginia State park. The state of Arizona also had a similar issue with dirty diapers, shoes, broken glass, and entire grills found all over the Arizona lakes, according to Arizona Central.
Due to the close proximity of parks to indigenous peoples' land, their communities are being greatly affected by fluxes of tourists coming to the parks. Robert DesRosier, the leader of the Blackfeet Nation Tribes COVID Response Team, spoke about his concern for the older generation within the tribe and how they have increased vulnerability due to, higher rate of immunocompromising diseases, limited health services, and overall shaky infrastructure.
How You Can Help
When we are spending time outside either hiking, climbing, or biking in the state parks we try to be aware of Leave No Trace Principles.
Leave No Trace (LNT) are quick guidelines to aid you in being as mindful and respectful to the land as you can be.
The LNT principles remind us that it is important to: plan ahead and prepare for your trip to make sure you can properly dispose of waste, be responsible with fire usage (or lack of), camp on specialized campsites, and be aware and respectful of wildlife.
Other points to emphasize are making it a priority to leave anything you find, including rocks and wildflowers (we know they look cool - but leave 'em be.) Be mindful of your distance to others on the trail. Even though you are outside, it is still necessary to have a mask with you and keep 6 feet distance.
Here at Waste Free Earth we are scheduling trash pick up events! If you are able to, organize a trash clean up event in your community!
By Kate Hoffman