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OUTDOORS: It's more than OK to get outside and hike right now, but please don't take risks


April 16, 2020

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Being outdoors has been something everyone has been encouraged to do since the cornonavirus pandemic began. And with the arrival of spring, hiking will become a preferred activity during the crisis. And while hiking is allowed as long as access is open, health experts in Montana are asking hikers to do it safely and follow all current social distancing guidelines.

One of the most emphasized aspects of Montana's stay-at-home order, as well as orders like that all over the country, is one thing you can do is get outside and get some exercise.

Of course, in Montana there's a lot of room to do that, too, while still practicing social distancing. And now that spring looks like it's finally here, more and more of you will want to get out and find a trail. Under the current stay-at-home order, that's perfectly fine. Again, it's, no doubt, a really good way to exercise while keeping a safe distance from one another.

However, as the weather gets nicer and more and more trails around the state become accessible, there are some things to keep in mind during this COVID-19 pandemic.

First off, remember that large gatherings are banned right now. That means hikers should not be doing so in large groups. In fact, many health experts in Montana have asked us to exercise outdoors alone. With hiking, though, that's not always safe, but you can hike with someone you are isolating with or, if you go with a friend, you can meet them at the trail and maintain your social distance.

Montana health experts are still asking us to practice social distancing. That means, if you arrive at a particular trail head and there are a lot of cars in the parking lot, it is recommended to find a trail with fewer people on it. You are also asked that, if and when you do encounter others while out hiking, you maintain 6 feet of distance at all times, and not to stop and talk in a group.

Since it's still spring, and many trails in more remote and popular hiking destinations in Montana aren't accessible yet, and major destinations like Glacier and Yellowstone Park are closed until further notice due to the COVID-19 pandemic, chances are you won't encounter large numbers of people on your hikes just yet, but remember, as the weather gets nicer, trails all over Montana will start to get busier and busier, especially as hikers look to substitute for their favorite spots in Glacier and Yellowstone.

Hikers and recreationalist are also reminded to make sure access to trails, and certain areas are actually open, as closures have occurred in some state lands due to due COVID-19 concerns.

Beyond that, the next thing to keep in mind is something that is a constant with hiking, even under normal circumstances - and that's safety.

When venturing farther into wilderness and back country, remember to always have the items that will help ensure your safety should problems arise, including fluids to keep hydrated, snacks, proper clothing for all types of weather, a medical kit and a flashlight. Of course, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks would also remind folks to carry bear spray if you are hiking anywhere in Montana where either grizzly bears or black bears, or both live.

And while all of those precautions are standard for hikers, safety is at a premium now because of COVID-19. Montana health experts are asking hikers and outdoor recreationalists to keep their activities as "low risk" as possible. The suggestions include not hiking into areas that are too remote, not hiking in inclement weather and not trying to tackle long, difficult hikes or technical climbs.

The reason health departments are asking that of us right now is so we do not put our first responders at more risk during this pandemic. First responders, such as county search and rescue teams, will still come and get you should you require their assistance while hiking, but during the COVID-19 pandemic, their risk goes up when they respond to those cases, and we, as outdoor enthusiasts, need to understand that and avoid putting first responders at risk as much as possible.

Now, obviously that's a lot to digest when many of you are just trying to get out and enjoy Montana like you do every spring, but you still can hike. You can and should get outdoors. You can get out and find a trail and hike it, including right here at home in Beaver Creek Park. But in doing so you just neet to be careful because these are not normal times we're living in, and even when we're doing something as normal as hiking, we need to be aware of that and adjust accordingly.


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