Bella the Public Land Bird Dog and I headed up the trail in Oak Creek Canyon into the designated wilderness. We went solo as we usually do and especially now with the need to reduce our contact with others. I hadn’t hiked this trail for years; yet, fondly remember hiking up this steep trail with family and friends after picking blackberries along the creek. Thoughts of my son taking the lead and me carrying my young daughter on my shoulders brought back fond memories. Today, however, things are much different.
In these times of social distancing we need to use our public lands in ways that might be very different from how we might have used them in the past. I picked this trail because I knew that it was not heavily traveled. It had a small trail head, even though it is along a busy road. In fact, the pull out was only just big enough for my truck.
I almost always take trails less traveled and often just “bushwack”. I need to run Bella often, and we typically go into the nearby Coconino National Forest and just head off into the woods for an hour or two. It is great for our physical and emotional health--one of the great benefits of using our public lands.
As of this writing, the Arizona governor’s Stay at Home Order allows for enjoying the outdoors in many ways (see: https://www.azdhs.gov/preparedness/epidemiology-disease-control/infectious-disease-epidemiology/index.php#novel-coronavirus-home for updates).
If you do venture out onto our public lands during this time of social distancing, here are a few tips:
- Follow federal, state, and agency guidelines and rules. Be sure to check land agency websites prior to heading out. The Coconino National Forest, for instance, closed several popular trail heads because they were getting too heavily used and people weren’t following social distance guidelines.
- Use areas and trails that are not popular. You might even not use a trail at all. It is often possible to head down an open Forest Service road, safely pull off the road, and start hiking.
- If you go with others, keep to very small groups and be sure to maintain a safe distance of 6 feet, 3.5 coatimundi, or 4 trout while hiking. It is also a good idea to drive separately to your outing location.
- Don’t share your water or food.
- Minimize your contact with others by, for instance getting gas once when your gas tank is low rather than twice when you tank is half full. Travel close to home so you are not traveling through many communities which increases chances of contact.
- Don’t go out if you are sick.
- Avoid high risk activities because first responders are overwhelmed and may have trouble responding (especially in remote locations).
- Pack it in; pack it out. And while you’re at it pick up other trash.
These are just a few helpful tips that we can practice while using our public lands in these times of social distancing.
Bella and I ended up having a safe outing in our National Forest. We returned home safe and rejuvenated. We both got the exercise we desperately needed. She chased some squirrels and often waited for me along the steep trail. I reflected on our love of public lands--so many special memories. My buttermilk fried quail lunch reminded me of last fall’s hunts. Beautiful points and busted birds; shots made and shots missed; solo hunts and hunts with friends and family
Hopefully, you can take advantage of our public lands in these times of social distancing. If so, stay focused like it is a solo hunt and be sure to take important precautions and follow the guidelines and rules.