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Getting Away: How To Keep Social Distance In Outdoor Recreation

Red Rock National Conservation Area. April 2016.
zug zwang/flickr

Red Rock National Conservation Area. April 2016.

To help curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, Nevadans have been isolating at home since early March. That means some have spent as many as 10 weeks mostly indoors. 

It’s understandable that they want to get outside, especially now that the weather is so nice.  

And boy are they ever getting outside! The U.S. Forest Service has tried to deter people from traveling to Mount Charleston due to over-crowding on roads and trails, and the Regional Transporation Commission reports that its bike-share rentals have nearly doubled during the pandemic. 

So, with more people enjoying the great outdoors, how can people also maintain safe social distances?

Marc Peruzzi is the contributing editor for "Outside" magazine and editorial director for "Mountain" magazine. He recently wrote an article outlining the 'new' rules for outdoor recreation during the time of coronavirus.

Some of the rules include: know when you're going so it's not overcrowded, choose your trail carefully, and stay single-file — even on wide trails.

Another rule, Peruzzi suggested, is bring a mask or buff to put over your mouth and nose in the more crowded areas of the trail. He admitted for bike riders breathing hard or hikers working their way uphill it can be tough to wear a mask but keeping one close by is important.

"But if you have one in a pocket, ready to use, that you can get through that busy trailhead area, you're doing yourself a lot of favors and doing everybody else a favor," he said.

Peruzzi noted that most novice hikers and bikers don't get more than a mile or two along the trail so experienced hikers and bikers won't really have to wear a mask for long.

While there is little evidence to show that outdoor recreation is an activity that spreads the virus, Peruzzi said there's no reason to make it a problem.

"I think we're still doing ourselves a favor by making sure that our trails don't become some sort of super spreader opportunity and I think it's mostly around those trailheads that people are still concerned," he said. 

Another rule he suggested is everyone should yield. The general rule for hiking is that those going down the trail should yield to those coming up and bikers should yield to hikers. However, Peruzzi said stopping and communicating with other users is vital.

"Right now, when people are a little freaked out about the spread of COVID, understandably, I think it is just good policy for everybody out there to just communicate and slow down and figure out the next move," he said.

There hasn't just been an increase in people mountain biking. More people are out riding bikes around town, especially with a dramatic drop in vehicle traffic.

Patrick Treichel is with the Southern Nevada Bicycle Coalition. He said leisure bike sales have skyrocketed 121 percent this year compared with last year. 

And while Treichel and other devoted cyclists are thrilled to see more people cycling, there are more people on the road who don't know the rules. 

"It practically makes you break out in hives when you see so many people out there that brushed off their 1960s bike and that was the last time they rode and now they're out there [without a helmet] because back then nobody wore a helmet," he said. 

Besides seeing more cyclists, people are cycling places they couldn't safely go before. Probably most surprisingly, the Las Vegas Strip is a popular place to ride with the whole family.

In fact, Treichel said Clark County Commissioner Justin Jones has proposed closing the Strip to vehicle traffic on select days and opening it to non-motorized traffic like walkers and bicyclists.

"We don't know what's going to come of it yet but [the other commissioners] were very, very open to the idea of opening the Strip up to non-motorists," he said. "The wheels are turning right now."

Treichel said there are also plans in the works to create a separate bike lane in the Red Rock and Blue Diamond areas. Cyclist groups are also pushing to have a separate bike lane in the Red Rock Scenic Loop. 

New cyclists aren't the only people enjoying the great outdoors but perhaps unaware of some of the rules.

Grace Palermo is the Southern Nevada Programs Director for Friends of Nevada Wilderness. She said the number of hikers and campers has exploded lately.

But many of those people are not as respectful of the rules as more experienced campers and hikers.

"The more users out there, the more impact," she said, "and certainly there are some folks who are probably newer to the outdoors and not as familiar with how to get out and recreate responsibly."

Palermo said people are cutting down trees to use as firewood, setting up fire rings in the middle of trails and leaving trash behind. 

She said anyone going out to enjoy the natural beauty of Nevada needs to follow the seven principles of Leave No Trace:

  • plan ahead and prepare,
  • travel and camp on durable surfaces,
  • dispose of waste properly,
  • leave what you find,
  • minimize campfire impacts,
  • respect wildlife, and
  • be considerate of other visitors.

"I think this is particularly important now... folks are a little on edge, maybe a little defensive or anxious. It really helps when everyone can enjoy the outdoor experience and get those physical and mental health benefits when they're out there," she said.
Peruzzi agreed, noting that with a 60- to 200-percent jump in people visiting outdoor spaces, everyone needs to aware of others. 

"I think getting the message out to be kind out there, and to leave no trace and to stay distanced, those things, we really need to hammer on those points," he said.

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Grace Palermo, Southern Nevada Programs Director, Friends of Nevada Wilderness; Marc Peruzzi, "Outside" Contributing Editor and "Mountain" editorial director; Patrick Treichel, Southern Nevada Bicycle Coalition

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Desert Companion welcomed Heidi Kyser as staff writer in January 2014. In 2018, she was promoted to senior writer and producer, working for both DC and State of Nevada. She produced KNPR’s first podcast, the Edward R. Murrow Regional Award-winning Native Nevada, in 2020. The following year, she returned her focus full-time to Desert Companion, becoming Deputy Editor, which meant she was next in line to take over when longtime editor Andrew Kiraly left in July 2022.