As many of you may know, the Illinois ‘Stay at Home’ Executive Order was extended until May 30, 2020 with some additional modifications made to it. These modifications allow some select state parks and state-managed recreational areas to open throughout the state. Southern Illinois was initially going to see 4 ares opened but now have many more opened after some changes were made. As you know, I am an advocate for state-managed outdoor recreation. At times, I have been vocal about the need to open some areas back up, especially for alternative transportation in terms of public safety. However, as someone who is experience in emergency management and public health, I also full understand the consequences of just opening everything up blindly.
With that being said, we need to ensure that we are focusing on important safety factors when recreating in these state areas so that they will remain open and most of all, the visitors and site staff are safe from harm which is most important of all.
Hiking with Shawn recommends that you consider utilizing the following tactics and promoting them to others to help prevent parks and areas from being closed again in the future and most of all, to keep fellow park patrons and state-area staff safe:
- Continue physically distancing from others, Don’t show up with a group of social friends and expect it to be okay. It is different for a family when children verses a group of friends. There 10 or less rule still applies. Never hike or recreate alone if you can help it but avoid larger groups.
- Be considerate of the park and area staff. They are more likely to be exposed to areas and people where the virus could be present than you are. You owe it to these folks to keep them safe. There are limited personnel on site to maintain these areas – don’t expect them to be fine with your approaching closely as if nothing is happening. All visitor information centers are closed so there are no personnel available for visitor center information. Use the internet, think about the safety of others.
- Leave No Trace! Pack out what you pack in and decrease the need for state personnel to have to clean up after another person. Feel free to pick up any trash you see. Michelle and I do it all the time – we just make sure we’re wearing gloves.
- Understand that state areas different from federal areas. Ferne Clyffe State Park is state and is now open, Bell Smith Springs is federal and remains closed. See the Shawnee National Forest official website for Forest Service closure information.
- Don’t be unsafe! Park personnel are limited and emergency first responders have reduced contact services. If you put yourself in a position where you need emergency medical attention, response time will likely be significantly longer than it has been before. Being unsafe is being irresponsible during a time like this.
- Abide by state and local orders. Just because a community has decided not to enforce a state’s guideline doesn’t mean that you should ignore state orders when it comes to state-managed recreational property. Conservation Police will enforce rules and area closures and they are watching for CDC guideline violations.
- Stay at home if you are sick. Don’t spread the sickness!
- Wear a mask if you can. It prevents your droplets from exposing others who might be vulnerable to the virus and could easily require life support or may easily die. Southern Illinois hospitals are currently not overwhelmed but we must continue to use common sense to keep it that way.
Stay safe everyone and thank you for reading this update. Please share this article with others and encourage others to recreate responsibly! Remember, these newly opened state areas are for day-use only. No camping activities are allowed at this time.
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.