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The Urban Ecology Center is an environmental community center, with three branches in Milwaukee, whose mission is connecting people in cities to nature and each other.
Since Gov. Tony Evers’ “Safer at Home” announcement, we’ve heard lots of questions about whether it’s still OK to go outside. There was a lot of info in the order and the message about outdoor activity is way down in section 11c, so you might have missed it!
As an environmental community center, the Urban Ecology Center has spent a lot of time figuring out how best to encourage people to connect with nature during this unusual time, so we wanted to share our understanding of the order here, along with some guidelines for how you can spend time in nature.
The order says that individuals may leave their homes to do a number of “essential activities,” including “[t]o engage in outdoor activity, including visiting public and state parks, provided individuals comply with Social Distancing Requirements…”
This is great news! Spending time outside and engaging in physical activity like walking, jogging, and biking [all expressly permitted by the order] have great physical and mental health benefits, which are critical at a time like this. Below are some guidelines for how to get that life-giving time outside in nature while staying safe:
- Maintain 6 feet of distance between you and anyone not in your household. Pro tip: many of the paved trails in Milwaukee parks, including the Oak Leaf Trail and the Hank Aaron Trail, are between 6 – 8 feet wide, so if you walk along one edge and another person walks along the other edge, you’ll be maintaining the appropriate social distance.
- Avoid busy parks. It’s great that so many people are getting outside, but as more people are using the outdoors to recreate, some parks may become too crowded to maintain social distancing. For example, parks along Milwaukee’s lakefront have tended to be the most crowded. Try to find another park to explore — Milwaukee County has over 150 County parks (plus dozens of city parks and a handful of public state-managed properties), so there’s bound to be one close by to enjoy.
- Playgrounds are closed: Evers’ order explicitly states that playgrounds are closed. Avoid playgrounds and all other hard surfaces that are likely to be “high touch” areas to limit the possibility of coming in contact with the virus.
- Avoid public restroom facilities (including rest stops or gas stations): Most are closed, but even if they are open, it is extremely difficult to ensure that surfaces are adequately cleaned between users to prevent contagion, so it’s best just to avoid them. This means you should be sure to plan ahead if you’re visiting a park that isn’t walking distance from your home.
- Wash up regularly. Once you return home from a trip to the park, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. It could also be a good idea to bring hand sanitizer along to use even before you get home. For extra precaution, wash your outerwear frequently, especially hats, scarves, gloves and mittens.
Here is a list of activities you CAN do outside [as long as you follow the guidelines above]:
- Go for a walk in your neighborhood
- Walk with your family or housemates to a park near your home
- Go for a jog or a bike ride
- Drive to a city, county, or state park to go for a hike (as long as you can do so without having to use a public restroom). Here are some suggestions of local areas to enjoy picked by UEC staff.
- Check out some family friendly ideas for outdoor time in this article from the Children and Nature Network
If you want more ideas about how to explore nature “apart, together,” the Urban Ecology Center regularly posts stories, photos, videos, educational content and suggestions on our blog and on our social media platforms.
You can find daily UEC posts on our Facebook page as well as on Instagram and Twitter. The bottom line is, spending time outside can be a safe and beneficial way to practice social distancing, and it can be great for your physical and mental health. We hope to see you out on the trails — from at least 6 feet away, of course!