Letter: Social distance in the great outdoors
Over the last few weeks, the coronavirus pandemic has hit Michigan and our region hard. It’s now clear we’re facing the worst health crisis of the last 100 years. We all must work together to slow the spread and the devastating impacts of COVID-19. That includes us, your parks managers — and you.
Our collective park systems are focused on helping keep you, your family and community safe, closely adhering to the governor’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” Executive Order. We’ve closed key public gathering spaces, temporarily shuttered interpretive centers and playgrounds, ceased all public programming, and more.
At the same time, the governor’s order recognizes the importance of park and recreation areas to provide Michigan residents access to local opportunities to get outdoors to enjoy nature and exercise.
In fact, we need those wide-open spaces and outlets now more than ever. It is crucial for people to have a place outside of their four walls to get in a workout, fresh air, or simply a change of scenery. Countless studies have shown that just being in the outdoors can boost mind, body and spirit.
But we must take the requirements for social distancing seriously. We need your help to prevent overcrowding and keep these special places open for all.
Thankfully, Southeast Michigan is blessed with countless outdoor recreation activities and more than 200,000 acres of parkland, including nearly 1,000 miles of regional trails — whether 550 miles of waterways or 400 miles of greenways and land trails.
That means billions of square feet of open space available for social distancing and following “the trails less traveled.” Hike or bike a trail. Walk the dog. Paddle the open water. Print a downloadable scavenger hunt map and help your homeschoolers discover nature. Find a new fishing spot.
We can provide indispensable resources to stay fit and sane while staying safe. Always maintain at least six feet of distance between yourself and individuals from other households. Don’t gather in groups or plan social meetups. Only go out if you’re feeling healthy. And please don’t litter — help protect our natural resources as we have limited trash and recycling services and staffing during this time.
Please also remember that state rules say travel is limited for essential services only. We want you to take advantage of Michigan’s outdoors; however, please do not drive or travel long distances to parks and other recreation opportunities outside of your immediate area. Traveling beyond local communities could unintentionally increase the spread of COVID-19.
We want our parks and open spaces to be open and here to help everyone get through this COVID-19 crisis. But we need your help to follow social distancing requirements and protections. Our people, our communities and our economy depend on that cooperation.
Amy McMillan, director, Huron-Clinton Metroparks
Vicky Rad, director, Macomb County Planning & Economic Development
Dan Stencil, executive officer, Oakland County Parks and Recreation Commission
Coy Vaughn, director, Washtenaw County Parks & Recreation Commission
Alicia C. Bradford, director, Wayne County Parks
Ron Olson, Parks and Recreation division chief, Michigan Department of Natural Resources