Hiking to social distance? ‘More people have the same idea’

Coronavirus

People are parking along roadways to get into closed recreation sites on BLM land and in the Mt. Hood National Forest

MT HOOD, Ore. (KOIN) — Trails in the Mt. Hood National Forest and on BLM lands aren’t closed but officials are still asking hikers to stay away from closed developed recreation sites and help stop the spread of COVID-19. 

BLM and National Forest Service officials are urging people to respect the “Stay Home” orders issued by Oregon Gov. Kate Brown. State parks, many federal trailheads and all private and public recreational campgrounds are closed across the state. Most public access points to Oregon beaches are also closed.

But the sun is shining bright and the days are warming up—and the temptation is just too great for some. On Thursday, vehicles were parked outside the entrance to the Wildwood Recreation Site near Mt. Hood.

“The closures are important because not just the Mt. Hood National Forest, but national forests across Oregon, Washington, California and other places are trying to align with their state executive orders for folks to stay at home, stay safe, save lives,” said Mt. Hood National Forest public affairs officer Heather Ibsen. 

BLM-managed trails and open spaces remain open in Oregon as long as people are responsible. BLM also discourages drivers from parking on the side of busy roads.

Ibsen told KOIN 6 News on Thursday that while Mt. Hood National Forest trails are technically still open, there are some important facts the public should bear in mind. 

Fewer hikers on trails means fewer Good Samaritans will be around if you get hurt or lost. Many roads and trails are muddy or even buried under snow, increasing your risk of getting stuck. 

The Wildwood Recreation Site is closed, April 9, 2020. (KOIN)

“A lot of search and rescue people are volunteers and they may be prioritizing their own families and trying to look out for their families,” Ibsen said. 

This means if something does go wrong during your hike in the forest, you should expect to wait longer for help to arrive. Depending on the severity of the situation, that could be a big risk to take. 

“You are going to have to rely on a whole network of people and you’re increasing your risk of other people—putting strain on the healthcare system and medical professionals,” said Ibsen. 

And for those who think social distancing will be easier on a trail because people are staying home—think again.

“People sometimes think… well, there might not be very many people, I can maintain that 6 feet or 10 feet,” said Ibsen. “But a lot more people have the same idea.”

The forest land in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area is closed, meaning the public can’t access any trails or access points. Ignoring the closures could result in steep fines. Parking illegally may lead to a citation or your vehicle being towed.

‘Stay home, stay local’: Oregon trails, beaches off-limits

Remember: the goal is to stay home as much as possible because doing so will bring a speedier end to the coronavirus pandemic. Working together to make that happen will help us all get back to enjoying Oregon’s natural treasures soon.

“We will still be here as a forest when COVID-19 subsides and we will be happy to welcome people and get people on the trails once we are in a safer, healthier place.” 

For now, officials suggest getting your daily dose of fresh air by having a backyard picnic, going on a walk or a jog in your neighborhood, spending time in the garden, washing your car or by just lounging on your porch.

For more information on public lands closures, visit these sites:

Oregon State Parks
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife
Oregon Department of Forestry
Oregon Recreation and Parks Association
Portland General Electric parks

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