Randy Young

Stepping outside your home into the fresh air is exactly what some people need to de-stress during these uncertain times. Backyard picnics, outdoor movie nights, and star gazing with immediate household members are excellent ways to shake off the negative effects of isolation while staying safe. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is encouraging New Yorkers to get outside and enjoy nature safely during the state’s ongoing response to COVID-19. Summer is a great time to go for a walk or jog, take a hike, ride a bicycle, or go fishing or horseback riding. You can also go boating or enjoy the scenery of state lands. Just as you should wear sunblock to save your skin from harmful UV rays, DEC asks that you protect yourself and others from COVID-19.  

Take the Pledge to PLAY SMART * PLAY SAFE * PLAY LOCAL: Enjoy the Outdoors Safely and Responsibly: 

  • pledge to respect the rules and do my part to keep parks, beaches, trails, boat launches, and other public spaces safe for everyone.  
  • will stay local and close to home.  
  • will maintain a safe distance from others outside of my household.  
  • I will wear a mask when I cannot maintain social distancing. 
  • accept that this summer, I may have to adjust how I enjoy the outdoors to help keep myself and others healthy and safe, even if it means changing my plans to visit a public space.  
  • will be respectful of others by letting them pass by me if needed on a trail and keeping my blanket ten feet apart from others on the beach.  
  • will move quickly through shared areas like parking lots, trailheads, and scenic areas to avoid crowding.  
  • IfI’m not feeling well, I will stay home.   

Of course, not everyone has a yard, and eventually, we all want to truly get away. Researching local trails and parks to find hidden gems near your home can be part of the fun. It can also give you an opportunity to plan for alternatives. When I was able to get away myself, it was a weekend with a perfect weather forecast. I expected the well-known and popular hiking and camping areas to be crowded, so I pulled out a map of state lands in my area and found three trails I’d never visited before. Each one had trailheads located along the same highway. I planned to look at the parking area of each trail as I passed it; and if I saw more than a few cars, I planned to move on to the next one. 

    Fortunately, when I arrived on that late Friday afternoon, the first trailhead was empty so I pulled in. The trail ran along a beautiful stream through a changing forest of hardwoods and evergreens. While hiking and camping for two days, covering several miles, I didn’t see another person. 

    If the parking lots had been packed and resulted in the need to change my plans, DEC has online resources to help. DEC info Locator is an interactive map that lets users access information about opportunities for outdoor recreation across the state. Whether you’re looking for activities on land or water, you can pick your activity and favorite area and you’ll have plenty of options to choose from. 

    And if you decide to stay in, DEC’s Adventure NY initiative has launched #AdventureAtHome, a virtual way to bring New Yorkers weekly content for inspiration about enjoying the outdoors close to home. Each week, DEC features online content on topics such as, paddling, hiking, viewing wildlife, birding, and camping. Sign up online for DEC’s “Find your Adventure” newsletter to be delivered right to your inbox. 

    Now that you have pledged to PLAY SMART * PLAY SAFE * PLAY LOCAL, what will you do and where will you go?