As Illinois moves towards a transition into Phase Three of the Restore Illinois plan, more outdoor recreational opportunities are set to open for public use as long as safety guidelines are followed. This means that outdoor recreation within the Shawnee National Forest and southern Illinois state parks will likely see an increase in users and human activities. Throughout the world, outdoor recreation has become ever so important for us during these hard times especially in America. This is a good thing because it helps gain more public interest in recreating, safeguarding and investing into our National Forests and parks across the nation. We will need that after all this pandemic stuff is a said and done because money and budgets are going to be tight.
But in order to remain in Phase Three and continue transitioning through the phases to essentially reopen Illinois, we must take precautions when recreating in the forest and state managed areas. More so, we must think about the safety of others before our own interests. And especially, we need to think about those who are closest to us who are still extremely vulnerable to severe to even fatal encounters with COVID-19.
A new initiative and coalition of outdoor advocates, outfitters and organizations called #RecreateResponsibly has been formed to advocate for the recreating in the outdoors safely during the COVID-19 pandemic. I encourage everyone to keep reading below for the valuable information, tips and resources for recreating responsibly during this crisis so that we can protect our outdoors.
Know Before You Go
Check if the area you wish to recreate in is open for the type of recreation you wish to take part in. Have a plan B just in case that area has a lot of visitors. It might be wise to create a list of several alternatives as the Shawnee National Forest and our State Parks should have enough room for everyone. To check the status of recreational areas, use the following reources:
Hiking with Shawn Coronavirus Resource Center – Updated with the latest official information on closures and announcements concerning COVID-19 in the State Parks in southern Illinois and the Shawnee National Forest.
US Forest Service – Shawnee National Forest – Each site linked on the official website will show information about closures and updates pertaining to recreation during the pandemic.
Illinois Department of Natural Resources – The official website for state-managed land and parks providing information on recreation and COVID-19.
Illinois Coronavirus Resource Center – The official state website for Illinois information and guidelines concerning COVID-19.
Some areas of the National Forest and state-managed land will likely have larger use. It is best to avoid crowded areas. Crowded areas are usually going to be the more widely popular sites such as Garden of the Gods Observation Trail, Bell Smith Springs and Ferne Clyffe State Park, among others. There are a lot of quieter areas in the forest and state-managed land that offer a very unique and exciting opportunity – you just have to get out there and explore!
It is important to plan ahead before going out to recreate responsibly. Prepare for closures to occur even at areas that are currently open. If large group activities occur, officials may decide to close areas for the protection of public health. You should ensure that you have everything you need to take with you before leaving to go to your destination. The idea is to avoid having to stop at stores and other locations as much as possible to help control the potential spread of germs. Pack plenty of food and something to drink. Bring hand sanitizer and personal items in case restroom facilities are closed. Bring a mask or face covering in case you need to come into contact with others.
Practice Physical Distancing
Continue practicing social distancing measures of keeping at least 6’ away from other people not directly involved with your immediate household. Obviously, it’s fine to be close to your children and family members but other people should always remain a safe distance away. Put your mask or face covering on if you wish to talk and do talk because social distancing doesn’t mean that you have to be anti-social. If you are sick, please stay home whether you suspect it is related to COVID-19 or not. Recreating while sick will only put others at risk and potentially create panic among other trail users.
Play It Safe
Now is the time more than ever to put safety before everything else. Before COVID-19, first responder resources and arrival times were scarce due to rural areas with limited budgets relying on volunteer agencies. With the pandemic, even more strain is placed on these agencies. It will likely take even longer for these agencies to effectively respond to emergency situations. If you become injured or lost, response time could be significantly impacted and it will put lives of emergency workers at risk. Knowingly performing unsafe activities is not only irresponsible but you risk the safety and health others around you and potentially could aid in placing a strain on healthcare organizations that need to avoid overwhelming surge capacities. Before recreating, ask yourself how safe it is and then decide if it is worth it. People die in the Shawnee and our state parks each year – please don’t become one of these statistics that we talk about later down the road.
Check out the following resources for participating in various activities in open outdoor recreational sites:
- Beach Guidelines for COVID-19
- Climber Guidelines for COVID-19
- Cycling Guidelines for COVID-19
- Paddling Guidelines for COVID-19
- Mountain Biking Guidelines for COVID-19
- Hiking Guidelines for COVID-19
- Outdoor Use Guidelines for COVID-19
- Boating Guidelines for COVID-19
Stay Close To Home
One of the biggest factors of helping to prevent the spread and flatten the curve of COVID-19 is to do everything you can to stay local. If traveling means that you need accommodations to stay overnight, you might be putting yourself and others at risk. However, as we move into a Phase Three of Restore Illinois, more camping availability will become possible. It is important that guidelines are followed to protect these areas and the people using them, including yourself. Social distancing, groups of no more than 10 and face coverings are required. Please consider the safety of local residents if traveling down to recreate in southern Illinois.
Leave No Trace
Please continue more than ever to follow the Leave No Trace rules of public lands. Pack out what you pack in and do not liter. A Cigarette butt is liter! Toilet paper (not buried) is liter! Diapers and personal hygiene is not only liter but potential hazardous substance to vulnerable populations. Treat the forest and our state lands as if they are your own backyard because in reality, it is your backyard. Users are always encouraged to clean up trash and liter that they come across. Please use proper PPE when doing so and always put your safety first.
Thanks for reading this article on the #RecreateResponsibly movement and initiative. I hope you join it and visit the official website to learn more information about it. This has been an official update for Hiking with Shawn Coronavirus Resource Center. Please check back periodically for more updates. Thank you for recreating responsibly and helping to keep everyone safe while enjoying the outdoors. You are my hero!
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.