Hiking Southern Illinois
during the COVID-19 Pandemic
The phrase ‘COVID-19’ and ‘Pandemic’ are now commonly used phrases that we are hearing every day in most discussions. This deadly disease is now changing the way the entire world does things. The changes will likely have long-lasting impacts on the world. The act of ‘social distancing’ will likely be a norm for future occurrences. We must remember that this particular Coronavirus is novel meaning a new version of it. There are more of them and there will likely eventually be stronger versions of COVID-19 pandemic. While the disease is changing our lives, it is important that we carry on performing the healthy activities that we have been doing – hiking in particular.
COVID-19 Pandemic: Social Distancing is a Nation Saving Strategy
Social distancing is such an important strategy to help defeat this pandemic and contain the spread of the virus. We can flatten the curve by practicing this act without the need to lock down the entire country but it is going to take a mass effort. The decision to close the state parks and state managed public land in Illinois was a good decision. It is important to understand the fact that many of these state areas have daily visitation population of several hundred to several thousand a day. If bars, shows, plays and events are all closed and cancelled, more people would likely flock to these state areas. It would likely mean that people would be side by side one and other in close proximity. Germs would spread and so would sickness. If anyone was positive with COVID-19 pandemic, they would likely rapidly spread the disease. If we only close some parks, other parks that are open across the state would likely be the places where visitors would go next.
Before we are too upset about the closure of these state-managed lands, we need to consider the people who manage them – the boots on the ground. Many people are now out of a job and while they are likely getting some form of unemployment benefit, still being out of a job in times like these are really bad. Consider how much anxiety they are feeling right now especially since there is no set date of when they can return to work. Put yourself in the shoes of these state workers before judging the state for their decision to keep citizens safe from an unknown and deadly disease.
Right now, it is so important to socially distance from groups of people that it will the method that saves or destroys this nation. We owe it to the most vulnerable populations to protect them and keep them safe. Remember, these vulnerable people are the ones that likely helped us get into hiking, raised us to be outdoorsy and were a significant impact to our lives. And it is also important to create an effort and a trend for younger generations to consider those who are vulnerable because many of us who are young and healthy will one day be vulnerable as well. Do we want our young to also keep us safe during a time of need?
COVID-19 Pandemic: The National Forest is Currently Open
I encourage everyone to continue hiking the Shawnee National Forest and other National Forest areas across the nation. However, you should be practicing common sense guidelines to protect you from COVID-19 and to prevent a community spread. These guidelines are simple:
- Avoid high populated National Forest areas such as Garden of the Gods Observation Trail. In areas where masses of tourists visit are the areas we should be most concerned about.
- If you are sick, stay at home.
- Don’t hike alone but don’t hike in groups of more than 10 people. This is a common wilderness regulation that we should all be used to. If you hike in groups, keep a safe distance between one and other – give each other some space.
- Avoid dangerous acts and situations with elevated risks. Emergency personnel are starting to adjust their response strategies in order to protect personnel. Response could be significantly longer than it usually is.
- Pay attention to official information, news outlets and authorities for the latest on any additional closures.
- Consider hiking in areas that offer safe trails but are often less populated by tourists and patrons.
In the event of a National Forest Closure
While the National Forest is open to public use, area closures to even full closure is quite possible. If officials feel that the National Forest should be closed or parts closed in order to protect the safety of the communities, we must abide by these temporary closures. Ignoring the closures will encourage folk to follow and thus ignore the strategies put in place to prevent the spread of infectious disease. I hope the forest is never closed over this – hiking is a significant activity in my life, it would be very saddening to not be able to do it.
However, I personally have family members that are impacted by this pandemic and their lives are in danger from COVID-19. I will do whatever I have to do to help keep my family safe and sound. While I am not claiming to be an expert, my first Master degree concentrates in emergency management and public health and this has allowed me to gain education and training on exactly what is happening at this moment. I support the current efforts being made by our government and the guidelines being set forth. If we don’t act as a Whole Community, we will not defeat this virus and its results will likely be catastrophic and a crisis that we’ve never even dreamed of seeing as a people.
If the National Forest is temporary closed, consider additional forms of outdoor recreating such as road biking, stationary biking on the porch or in the backyard, planning a multi-day hike, editing previous photos and videos of hikes, cleaning hiking gear, reading hiking books, watching outdoor movies, reading articles to teach you to be a better hiker (like topo maps and such). Pretend that its storming and that you have to stay at home and pass the time.
Stay up to date with Hiking with Shawn
I will continue to post information, news and updates that show closures and official information concerning COVID-19 in relation to our outdoor recreational areas. But I also want to focus more effort on the good stuff as well because we shouldn’t just be reading the bad news. I want to post more topics where you can share photos, do more live streams where we can talk and focus on posting articles that will help us get through the hardest times of this current crisis. It is my mission to continually serve you all as you have made Hiking with Shawn what it is today. I’ll be searching the web few and far to find you all sorts of good reading material and I’ll maintain an active community among all my outlets including Hiking with Shawn on YouTube, Hiking with Shawn on Instagram, Hiking with Shawn on Facebook, Hiking with Shawn on Twitter and the official Hiking with Shawn homepage. Together we will continue to enjoy the outdoors even if we cannot be in the outdoor space that we’d rather be in.
Important Resources for Announcements Concerning COVID-19
- News, Announcements and Alerts of the US Forest Service
- News, Announcements and Alerts of the Shawnee National Forest
- News, Announcements and Alerts of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (COVID-19)
- News, Announcements and Alerts of the Illinois Department of Public Health (COVID-19)
Thank you for reading, folks! Please stay safe, continue practicing social distancing and I know for certain that I’ll see you on the trail, again! If anyone has any questions or information for me, feel free to email me any time at [email protected]
Shawn J. Gossman
Shawn is the founder and host of the YouTube Channel, Hiking with Shawn as well as Hiking with Shawn LLC. Shawn hikes, backpacks and visits various forested areas in the Shawnee National Forest, local state parks and other areas promoting outdoor recreational activities to obtain video to show to locals and non-locals alike. Please support Shawn’s efforts by sharing this post and leaving a comment below.