More than 50 organizations recently came together, creating the Washington Outdoor Coalition that agreed on practical advice for enjoying the outdoors during the COVID-19 pandemic – to protect residents and keep Washington’s popular outdoor recreation areas open.
As state lands and waters reopened earlier this month, people were excited, but many agencies and outdoor organizations realized a shared set of steps was needed to reduce risks while also enjoying nature.
The newly formed coalition combines the voices of more than 50 organizations to simplify and amplify that guidance – to make recreating responsibly easier to remember, follow and share.
The coalition said during the pandemic, spending time outside has become of even greater importance because of the mental and physical benefits fresh air and nature provide.
Brought together under the leadership of Washington Trails Association, outdoor retailer REI and state land managers, the Recreate Responsibly Coalition includes government agencies, nonprofits and outdoor businesses inspired by a love of the outdoors and a desire to help people safely
experience the benefits of nature while ensuring that public lands stay open.
“It became clear pretty quickly that there were a lot of similar conversations happening. It made sense for us all to come together to agree on clear and consistent guidelines that everyone could use,” said Andrea Imler of Washington Trails Association.
The result? Six quick tips to help reduce the spread of the virus, based on recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), public health guidelines and recreation experts.
Whether you are hiking, biking, paddling or riding (a horse or a dirtbike), these tips offer advice for how to recreate responsibly during the public health crisis.
6 tips to help #RecreateResponsibly:
- Know Before You Go: Check the status of the place you want to visit. If it is closed, don’t go. If it’s crowded, have a plan B.
- Plan Ahead: Prepare for facilities to be closed, pack lunch and bring essentials like hand sanitizer and a face covering.
- Stay Close to Home: This is not the time to travel long distances to recreate. Most places are only open for day use.
- Practice Physical Distancing: Adventure only with your immediate household. Be prepared to cover your nose and mouth and give others space. If you are sick, stay home.
- Play It Safe: Slow down and choose lower-risk activities to reduce your risk of injury. Search and rescue operations and health care resources are both strained.
- Leave No Trace: Respect public lands and communities and take all your garbage with you.
The coalition said it realized that harmonizing these simple guidelines would increase the understanding and awareness of these shared best practices across the state, and potentially beyond.
Organizers say the work of the new coalition has also begun to help shape the national conversation. REI, one of the founding members of the Recreate Responsibly Coalition, has a reach beyond the state’s boundaries and quickly saw the potential to channel this energy nationwide.
“Spending time outdoors has been important for many Americans during this public health crisis,” said Eric Artz, President and CEO of REI Co-op.
He added, “The #RecreateResponsibly coalition is a great example of what’s possible in this state when organizations come together with a shared passion and a clear goal. By simplifying and amplifying guidance on how to recreate reasonably, we are keeping ourselves healthy, supporting our land managers and working together to keep our public lands open. This is a collaborative model we hope to see take off at the national level and in other states.”
Building on the idea that simple, consistent advice would be good for everyone, REI, OutdoorAlliance and the Outdoor Industry Association have convened a national group of partners interested in helping to ensure this conversation expanded nationally.
This national Recreate Responsibly Coalition now has 18 members and is evolving into a #RecreateResponsibly movement with a website – www.recreateresponsibly.org – to share the guidelines and other
The Coalition said it recognizes this is a first collective step. As more people get outside, and as governments update their COVID-19 policies, the guidance may need updates. In addition, different activities – climbing, off-roading, trail maintenance and restoration – may require additional protocols.
The impacts of the pandemic on recreation and public lands will likely be felt for months, and maybe years, to come. The coalitions says it became clear that natural spaces and the ability to enjoy them are not mere nice-to-haves. Whether hiking, paddling, riding or walking in a local park, access to nature is a key component to health and well-being.
“We are in this together, as part of the #RecreateResponsibly Coalition, we are collaboratively working to make sure our re-entry to trails, parks, waterways and public lands is done in the most responsible, safe and sustainable way,” said Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance representative Yvonne Kraus.
Long term, the Recreate Responsibly Coalition hopes that this growing recognition of the value of time spent outside will translate to an increased desire to be strong stewards for public lands now and in the future.