Get off the Appalachian Trail, stay away from Mohonk Preserve

Warwick. Two's a crowd: Parks departments and preserves are backtracking from their initially friendly invitations to take advantage of open spaces during the coronavirus pandemic. When everybody shows up, social distancing is no longer possible.

24 Mar 2020 | 08:51

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy wants you off the trail.

The Mohonk Preserve has thrown up its gates.

The parks departments of New York and Pennsylvania want you to turn around and go home if you see a crowd at the trailhead.

This is the month through-hikers on the Appalachian Trail typically start their journey in Georgia if they plan to make the 2,200-mile journey to Maine by October. The trail passes through many points in the tristate area, including Mount Peter and Greenwood Lake in New York, High Point State Park in New Jersey, and the Delaware Water Gap in Pennsylvania.

"In a time when social distancing is necessary to minimize the spread and contraction of a dangerous virus, many have escaped to nature seeking isolation and unpopulated spaces," said Sandra Marra, conservancy president and CEO. "On the A.T., however, what they’ve found are trailhead parking lots exceeding their maximum capacities, shelters full of overnight hikers, day hikers using picnic tables and privies, and group trips continuing as planned."

She said a simple half-day hike can spread COVID-19. Hikers "may have eaten lunch at a picnic table, taken a break in a shelter, used a privy, or shared a map or food with someone unknowingly infected with COVID-19 and carried this highly contagious virus back to their communities at the end of the day," she said.

In addition, the rural communities adjacent to the trail "may not have the healthcare resources to help a sick hiker or volunteer or manage a COVID-19 outbreak," said Marra.

"We cannot close the trail," she said. "We cannot physically bar access to trailheads or connecting trails. We can and do, however, urge everyone to please stay away from the Appalachian Trail until further notice."

This week, the nonprofit Mohonk Preserve in New York's Shawangunk Mountains shut down: "At Mohonk Preserve, the health and safety of our staff and visitors are our highest priorities During the COVID-19 crisis, it is more important than ever that we all practice responsible outdoor recreation."

Changes will be posted on its website, mohonkpreserve.org/visit.

Just last week, the New York State Department of Conservation suspending all parking fees to accommodate people yearning for some time in the fresh air.

"During the current COVID-19 public health crisis, getting outdoors and connecting with nature is a way to help maintain our mental and physical health," says the DEC. "Scientific studies show that time outside in nature, especially among trees, significantly reduces stress and anxiety, lowers blood pressure, improves mood, energy and sleep, and boosts the immune system."

But the message is now more tempered: choose trails close to home, avoid potentially busy trailheads, keep at least six feet of distance between you and others, avoid direct contact with other people, and stay home if you are showing or feeling any sign of symptoms.

The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources says that while its trails are still open, visitors are discourged. Hikers who encounter crowds that prevent them from practicing social distancing are advised to find another park or return home.

"The best advice to slow the spread of the coronavirus is to stay home," its website says.