It’s that time of year again, when many of us are in our first days of exercising more. According to a recent YouGov poll, getting more exercise is the most popular resolution for Americans in 2021. As we continue to live with the COVID-19 pandemic, the great outdoors should remain a popular choice for anyone seeking to move more. In 2020, responsible recreation became a global theme across public lands in the wake of overcrowding and unsafe conditions during the pandemic. In 2021, “movers and shakers” should probably prepare for, encourage and expect more of the same.
If you have resolved to be more active in 2021, North Carolina state forests are currently open and available for you to enjoy adventure, exploration, recreational activities and yes, exercise – even during the winter season. Winter’s environment can change quickly and without warning. Access points may be limited, and some areas can become dangerous during winter weather. From the North Carolina Recreate Responsibly Coalition, here are some useful tips to help you #RecreateResponsibly in state forests this season and as we continue to live with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Know Before You Go – The winter season can be a wonderfully beautiful time to explore your local state forest, but winter brings new risks and guidelines for staying safe. Areas can become dangerous quickly during winter weather. Know your destination before you get there. Research it. Roads and facilities may be closed.
Plan Ahead – Check local conditions and make sure you are prepared to endure the elements. Pack extra layers and waterproof clothing. Pack an extra mask/face covering just in case the one you’re wearing gets wet. Before your visit, check with the state forest about which areas or services are open, such as visitors’ centers, picnic areas and bathroom facilities. Use the restroom before leaving home and bring what you need with you, including hand sanitizer and other supplies to maintain proper hygiene. While portable toilets are available in most state forests, offices and restroom facilities remain temporarily closed to the public.
Practice Physical Distancing – During your visit, stay at least 6 feet from people with whom you do not live and avoid gatherings and crowded areas. It is important to be prepared to cover your nose and mouth, especially during the pandemic. Be prepared to eat and rest outside while many state forest facilities remain temporarily closed to the public. Remember, stay at home if you are sick.
Play It Safe – Know you limits and your gear. Slow down and use caution. Choose lower risk activities to reduce your chance of injury.
Explore Locally – Visit state forests that are close to your home. Driving and parking may be more challenging during winter and traveling long distances to visit a state forest may contribute to the spread of COVID-19. If you do travel, be mindful of Native and local communities.
Leave No Trace – Keep our state forests clean. Pack out any trash and waste. Respect the forest and its resources.
Build an Inclusive Outdoors – Everyone deserves to enjoy and experience the magic of our state forests. Be an active part of making the outdoors safe, accessible and welcoming for all identities and abilities.
For these and other helpful recommendations and resources, visit the North Carolina Recreate Responsibly Coalition’s website.
Get out and move more in your local state forests this winter. Enjoy and explore some of our state’s best known and lesser known trails while learning about forest management and conservation. To learn more about the state forests nearest you, visit www.ncforestservice.gov. For the most current COVID-19 information and updates specific to state forests, visit www.ncforestservice.gov/COVID19.htm. Before visiting your local state forest, watch our helpful visitor expectations video here: https://youtu.be/fd1KxrMs9pg. Check the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest recommendations for visiting parks and recreational facilities. Remember, wherever you spend time outdoors this winter, #RecreateResponsibly.