Navigating the outdoors safely during a global pandemic, respecting nature and others.

by Kimberly Orbe, Coalition Coordinator

As people are finding ways to escape the dense, hot, noise and air-polluted cities, more people are finding refuge in their local mountains and trails. As parks, trails and beaches have slowly began to open up again, there is no doubt that open spaces are finally being valued and treasured by locals.

As a resident of Koreatown, with limited open space, towering apartments and noisy streets, I know about the need to seek out nature. I have flocked to find peace and relaxation in my public lands. I have seen people recreating, enjoying nature, biking through Cogswell Dam in the San Gabriel Mountains, and swimming in the East Fork River. Unfortunately, some people who have decided to escape to the outdoors have also chosen to forget there is a global pandemic.

On countless occasions, I have seen people recklessly pack some of our favorite outdoor places. I have witnessed hikers engaging in conversations without masks, shaking hands, and hugging friends they are meeting on trails. I have even had folks approach me, asking for directions, without a face covering and a total disregard for my safety or comfort-ability. I am no public health official, but I adhere to health guidelines and social distancing because I, like many others, care about my health and those I love.

I have even voyaged to Los Padres National Forest after making a camping reservation for a weekend. My campsite was next to a stream and a hiking trail and I was able to enjoy the weekend and site to the fullest. I was so pleased to see groups social distancing and being respectful of one another. I also saw some visitors coming in hoping to snatch an empty site and I had an encounter with a pair of young women who approached our campsite in their cars. They parked in front of our vehicle, got out of their car and started walking towards my partner and I WITHOUT A FACE COVERING. I put my face cover on, hoping that they would do the same, but they did not. They wanted to know if there was any available space for them to camp near our campsite. We told them there wasn’t as they continued to scope out our site. Then they said thank you and walked back towards their vehicle and left.

On any other “regular” day, in a world without COVID, I would have probably invited them to stay near us or even offered suggestions to other places they can camp. However, I was very disappointed by their total lack and disregard for other people’s safety. I am sharing this story not to be judgmental but to hopefully encourage others to please be respectful of other visitors (Leave no Trace Principle 7). This virus has demonstrated that it does not care for your age, what color or shape you are. Any person can become a victim to this virus. As we travel to the beaches, mountains, and desert to release and have fun, it is important that we remember that.

I hope that everyone continues to enjoy the outdoors. Please plan and prepare, avoid busy times/trails and let’s all care for one another through our actions. Wear a mask. Keep your physical distance. Wash your hands constantly and sanitize. Follow trail etiquette. (Don’t try to force your way down a narrow trail like the jerk I came across). Together we can get through this pandemic and continue to enjoy nature and all the beauty she provides.

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