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Getting Outside: Tips to Care for Yourself, Others, & the Land

two people in woods

Picture yourself stepping outdoors after being cooped up inside. Chances are you feel more relaxed, energized, and happier. You know firsthand what research has been telling us for years: Being out in nature, even for just five minutes, is beneficial to our mental and physical health.

As the COVID-19 crisis has shuttered offices, stores, and other indoor public spaces, many people are getting outdoors around the region to escape the confines of their houses. Public conservation areas play an important role in providing access to this “essential service” provided by nature. Many conservation areas and trails are now seeing more use than ever. While getting our dose of nature is crucial, when we’re outside we all must take steps to care for the health of others, and the land itself.

If you’re getting outdoors beyond your own backyard, keep these tips in mind:

Tips to Care for Yourself & Others

  • Even outdoors, maintaining physical distance is essential to preventing the spread of the virus. Current guidelines tell us to stay at least 6 feet apart. Carefully step off the trail to let others pass. Bring a mask to put on if you can’t maintain physical distance.
  • Don’t hike in groups. Go for a walk alone, with family you live with, or with one or two friends who are willing to honor the 6-foot rule.
  • To minimize overcrowding, if a parking area is full, take it as a signal that this site is “at capacity” and go elsewhere.
  • When you head out, have a backup plan—or several—for other places to go in case your first choice is too crowded for safe distancing. (See box below for ideas.)
  • Don’t go to public outdoor areas if you have flu symptoms, have tested positive, or have been in contact with someone who has symptoms of coronavirus.
  • Don’t take unnecessary risks on long or difficult hikes that could lead to needing rescue or an emergency room visit.

Tips to Care for the Trail

  • Heavy foot traffic can damage trails, surrounding trees, and plants. Help disperse this impact by choosing lesser-known trails. (See below for ideas!)
  • Walk on the center of the trail. If you must step off to bypass mud or other hikers, step on stones or tree roots to avoid widening the trail. Take care not to trample delicate plants—or step in a patch of poison ivy!
  • During wet periods, choose paved or hard-surface routes (e.g., bike trails or paths at the Quabbin Reservation), or hikes that climb through higher, rocky terrain, not those in wetlands or low areas.

Thank you for doing your part to protect our community and the shared trails that nurture us all!


Escape the Crowds on Trails Less Traveled

Many more people are heading out to our local conservation areas now. You can help disperse the crowds—to protect both people and the land—by exploring lesser known places like these.

Saw Mill Hills Conservation Area (Northampton, City-Owned): The Roberts Hill trail network offers moderate hill climbing with nice views from several overlooks.

Dyer Conservation Area (Hadley, Kestrel-Owned): An easy, short up-and-back hike along a stream with a mix of field, forest, and wetland habitat.

Jabish Brook Conservation Area (Belchertown, Town-Owned): Mostly flat, rocky, forested loop trail crossing a picturesque brook.


NOTE: Some organizations, including Mass Audubon and The Trustees, have decided to close some or all of their public conservation areas due to heavy use. Some cities and towns are also closing parks and recreation areas. Before heading out, check with town, state, or organization websites to see if anything has changed.

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