Feature

Going Outdoors While Social Distancing

Kathryn Sosbe
Office of Communication, USDA Forest Service
March 31st, 2020 at 10:56AM
Chris French, Deputy Chief of the National Forest System enjoys a solo hike in ‘America’s Backyard.’
Chris French, Deputy Chief of the National Forest System enjoys a solo hike in ‘America’s Backyard.’ Photo/Chris French

The idiom ‘be careful what you wish for’ is likely coming to roost for those of us who love to show off 193 million acres of national forests and grasslands.

We are learning that in a time when space is needed, you are finding solace and satisfaction in the great outdoors. Except, so is everyone else, which creates crowded trails and parking lots.

“Just this weekend, I recreated on my nearby national forest,” said Chris French, who is the deputy chief of the National Forest System, which oversees the 193 million acres of public land. “I was surprised by the crowds of people that were present. I realized that even for places that I love, that I would need to change my needs on behalf of the greater good.”

Forest Service employees are proud of the lands we manage on behalf of Americans. Some like to refer to these national forests and grasslands as America’s backyard. So do we. They serve a multitude of purposes, including timber for building, firewood for keeping warm, in-season hunting for a valued food source for many families, and a supply of clean water that 20 percent of the nation enjoys. We also help local economies, most especially rural communities, that rely on tourism and other work that emanates from the lands we manage. Forest Service lands connect communities through the roads we help manage.

“Our national forests and grasslands can be a critical resource for people in difficult times,” French said. “Across our nearly  30,000 sites the Forest Service manages nationally, we want to ensure the safety of our communities, our employees, and visitors. We appreciate your understanding as we all manage through this challenging time.”

Safety, of course, is critical. Like you, we are practicing an abundance of caution to help, as they say, flatten the curve. While we are business as usual, we, like the rest of the country, have altered that a bit to follow the guidance of our agency as well as local, county, state, and federal leaders and medical professionals.

“Our national forests and grasslands continue to be a safe place to visit and recreate,” said Tracy Perry, director of the agency’s Law Enforcement and Investigations corps of officers and agents. “However, visitors should be aware of state, county, and local health restrictions that may prohibit some activities or prohibit visiting some areas on public lands.”

Perry said that while essential public services continue local partners and agencies that visitors should, “Remember that we are all busy and may not be available to respond to all situations. Please avoid high-risk activities. First responders are overwhelmed and may not have the resources to respond to remote areas.”

Editor's note: There are three official, government-wide sources of up-to-date information about the coronavirus: Coronavirus.gov, CDC.gov/coronavirus, and USA.gov/coronavirus.

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