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AUSABLE WATER WISE: Leave No Trace during mud season, COVID-19

Stick to durable surfaces, like dry trails and bedrock, when hiking during mud season. (Photo provided)

We know. You are staying home, maybe working, maybe catching up on favorite TV shows and finishing books from your reading list.

But it’s also spring, and the other part of maintaining positive mental health is finding a way to get outside during mud season and COVID-19. How can you safely and responsibly enjoy the outdoors over the next several weeks? Here are seven tips from the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, tailored for the Adirondacks.

One: Follow local guidelines. Every community has slightly different recommendations for getting outside, most of which are adapted from the CDC and state departments of health and environmental conservation. Some trails are wet and muddy and recreating in these areas can damage the hard work of countless volunteers. Other trails may not be conducive for staying at least six feet away from anyone not living with you. Make sure you “know before you go.”

Two: Expect closures. Many local and state trails are closed for hiking and biking during mud season. Restroom and other facilities at trailheads may not be available. State boat launches and private marinas for recreational vessels are not considered essential. Have an alternative plan for local recreation in the event that your favorite site is not a responsible choice. The Barkeater Trails Alliance website is a great resource for checking out trail conditions and closures.

Three: Pack out your trash. Most people know the old adage “carry in, carry out.” With limited staff and services at many trailheads and local parks, it is more important than ever to pack out your trash, recyclables, and dog waste all the way home and utilize your own receptacles. Overflowing garbage is unsightly, inconsiderate, and can harm wildlife.

Four: Avoid times and places of high use. Help prevent large crowds at popular outdoor areas, spread out to quieter locations, and avoid times of highest use if possible.

This can be challenging while trying to recreate locally, especially on weekends. There may be days when sticking to sidewalks or quiet gravel roads is the best option.

Five: Proceed with caution. As our healthcare system adapts to increasing demand, it’s important to reduce potential accidents that would add to the stress on first responders and medical professionals. As much as possible, stick to activities that are low risk and areas that are familiar and within your comfort level.

Six: Continue following the seven Leave No Trace Principals. In the midst of mud season and COVID-19 it is just as important to prepare for spring weather conditions, travel on durable trails, dispose of our waste properly, minimize campfire impacts, leave natural and historic objects where you find them, keep a safe distance from wildlife, and do our best to eliminate impacts.

And remember, in public areas or designated areas of the Forest Preserve, walk your dog on a leash. The coronavirus can be transmitted to a dog’s coat through petting, so limit your dog’s access to others and refrain from petting other people’s dogs, no matter how cute.

Seven: Be kind. We are all in this together, let’s help everyone by doing our part to take care of each other and our beloved outdoors.