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Healthy recreation options during COVID-19

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MONTPELIER — The Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation has released guidance for people engaging in outdoor recreation activities during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. Phil Scott's March 24 "Stay Home, Stay Safe" order does not prevent Vermonters from getting outside, the department said in a news release on Wednesday, though people participating in activities like hiking, camping, fishing, biking, hunting or walking in nature should practice social distancing and other measures to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

"As more parts of Vermont see closures and recommendations for social distancing, we all need to find ways to manage the stress and uncertainty," Forests, Parks and Recreation Commissioner Michael Snyder said in the release. "A daily walk, run or hike can provide real benefits to your physical and mental health. Just practice social distancing while doing your favorite activity."

The department is advising Vermonters to visit nature destinations closer to home — like local wood lots, fishing holes or bird watching spots — and eliminating the need for car travel. If "you must drive someplace to enjoy nature, drive by yourself or with immediate family members only and try to limit your trip to 10 miles or less," the department said.

Crowding should also be avoided, whether indoors or outdoors, according to the release. In public settings, people should stay at least 6 feet away from one another. "Just because you're outside doesn't mean it's safe unless you are continuing to practice good personal hygiene and appropriate social distancing," the department advised.

Nature visitors should also wash their hands often, avoid often-touched surfaces and leash their dogs, according to the release. Higher-risk activities should be avoided, since "now is not the time to try something extreme and end up in the hospital, taxing an already overburdened health care system."

Vermonters can plan outings by consulting the Forests, Parks and Recreation website at fpr.vermont.gov, which includes guidance related to mud season. People interested in hunting and fishing opportunities can check the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department's website, vtfishandwildlife.com.

"Although facilities like restrooms at many areas are currently closed, people are still welcome to enjoy state parks, state forests and wildlife management areas," the release states. "The state asks that people follow commonsense behaviors including honoring all signage, treating public areas with respect and giving people space at gathering points like parking areas."

The state parks are expected to be "fully operational later this spring and early summer according to the regular schedule," though some programs and services may be modified for safety, according to the release.

Local options

The region's state parks include Lake Shaftsbury State Park, Woodford State Park and Emerald Lake State Park, in East Dorset.

In an email on Thursday, Bennington Select Board Chairman Donald Campbell, who is also southwest regional director for the Vermont Land Trust, echoed the state agency's guidance. "VLT couldn't agree more regarding the physical and emotional benefits of being outside," he wrote, adding that social distancing "is a must."

"Many conserved lands throughout the state have public access for people to enjoy walking, hiking, birding, fishing, and other spring-time activities," Campbell wrote. "These are often quiet places that are close to home. We have maps on our website and are publishing content on social media using the hashtag #staygroundedVT."

VLT-conserved lands open for visiting include the Mile-Around Woods, Lake Paran Trail, Greenberg Headwaters Park and Greenberg Reserve and the Bennington Area Trails System network on Mount Anthony, Campbell wrote. "Folks should remember that trails are still icy and muddy so they should bring proper gear: boots, warm clothes, snacks and water."

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In Bennington, it's possible to walk in the woods without venturing far from downtown. The George Aiken Wildflower Trail, a path accessible from the parking lot of the Bennington Museum, located at 75 Main St., "is the one part of the Museum that has remained open," executive director Joshua Campbell Torrance, who has taken to giving virtual doors of the institution during its temporary closure, wrote in an email.

Campbell credited Tony and Jackie Marro for putting "a lot of time and effort into the trail."

The trail now features a series of quilt-patterned benches made by Jackie Marro over the winter, including two "based on designs in the famous Jane Stickle quilt in the Bennington Museum," Tony Marro wrote in an email on Thursday.

The quilt, which dates to 1863 and has 5,602 pieces, is "only shown for a short time each year" at the museum "due to the fragility of the fabric," and draws quilters from around the country and world, according to the museum's website.

"There are thirteen quilt design benches on the trail now, four more will be added this weekend, and there will be a total of eighteen in all," Marro wrote. "All of these patterns were stenciled after Jackie made and cut out stencils from quilt patterns. But one is a stencil design (not a quilt pattern) by Adele Bishop of Manchester who helped bring about a revival of stenciling as a decorative art form in the 1970s."

To coincide with an exhibit on Robert Frost planned for later this year, "we also plan to put laminated cards by the benches with poems by Frost and others, so that visitors can read the poems while resting on the benches and enjoying the views," Marro wrote. "The poems were selected by Liz Luca, one of the volunteer trail workers."

"It will be a few weeks before there will be large numbers of wildflowers on the trail, although the elderberry and rhododendron bushes are getting ready to open," Marro advised.

The nonprofit Fund for North Bennington, which owns hundreds of acres of land and maintains a network of trails, including paths in and around the Mile-Around Woods, wrote in an email that its trails have seen an uptick in use over the past few weeks. By walking on either edge of the path, it's possible to keep the recommended 6-foot distance from other visitors, the group said.

"Fortunately this is a particularly lovely time to be out as the woodland spring flowers should be blooming soon (for viewing, not for picking)," the group wrote, adding that dog owners must keep their canine companions under control at all times and clean up after them. Ticks are also starting to emerge, "so use suitable precautions," the organization advised.

Maps and additional information are available on the fund's website, northbennington.org.

Another village attraction is temporarily off limits. Bennington College announced on Wednesday that "visitors are currently not permitted on campus, including on the walking trails."

"We know this is an unsettling time with so much uncertainty and concern for the health of ourselves, each other, and our communities," the college said in the announcement. "In working together, we will successfully navigate these challenges. We look forward to welcoming everyone back on campus when we are on the other side of this."

Additional information about the college's response to the coronavirus is available on its website at bennington.edu/coronavirus-covid-19-updates-and-information.

Contact Luke Nathan at lnathan@benningtonbanner.com.


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