Use trails, officials say — just stay far apart. And stay off if they’re muddy.
Residents have been encouraged to hunker down and avoid contact with others to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus just as the weather outside is taking lurching steps toward springtime warmth.
Officials are encouraging residents to get outside and use the expansive trail and open space offerings throughout Summit County, but they say the risk of spreading the disease and exacerbating the pandemic still exists if humans gather too closely with people not in their household.
Area recreation officials have taken steps to limit social gathering, like closing playgrounds, basketball courts and dog parks, but have been reluctant to limit access to the area’s trails. They say it is incumbent on outdoor enthusiasts to maintain social distancing efforts to keep the trails open.
They also asked people not to congregate at trailheads and to stay off muddy trails.
Charlie Sturgis, the executive director of the Mountain Trails Foundation, said the vast majority of people seem to be complying with social distancing guidelines, a number he anecdotally pegged at 85%.
“Kinda like poop bags,” Sturgis said. “You can engage most people but you can’t get ‘em all, apparently.”
He said he’s seeing roughly average trail usage for this time of year, though the pandemic has curtailed some normal activities like the springtime rite for many of venturing to southern Utah to get some sunshine and early-season biking.
Ken Fisher is Park City’s recreation manager. He said the city’s recreation facilities like playgrounds and skate parks are closed, including public bathrooms, to prevent people from gathering and from touching hard surfaces on which the virus can linger.
But the green spaces are still open for people who want to head outside with family members.
“As the weather gets nicer, we expect people to put more pressure on the parks,” Fisher said. “(People should) maintain their social distance, make sure there’s 6 feet between them and the other people. (I’d) encourage people to get out and exercise but they just need to be smart about it.”
After recent incidents of people congregating at the basketball courts in City Park, Fisher said his office removed the hoops so people could no longer play, but did not pursue criminal enforcement.
He said the city wasn’t considering further restricting recreation, but added that was dependent on members of the public continuing to practice social distancing.
Despite the recent cold snap, mud season is in full swing on many area trails and Snyderville Basin Recreation District Director Brian Hanton asked people to head to hard-surface “transportation trails” to spare softer trails from damage.
He said the district has closed many of its facilities as well, including pavilions and tennis and pickleball courts, and that it might be forced to consider closing trailheads if people gather in groups.
“Please use safety when out of the home,” Hanton wrote in an email. “Every age can be impacted by this virus.”
He also indicated the district was considering creative steps like making certain trails directional so that users would travel in the same direction, limiting how often they would cross paths with others.
Sturgis said he’s changed his springtime routine, mostly sticking to solo rides and refraining from inviting large groups for a ride.
He pointed to a Belgian study that indicates viral particles can trail behind those exerting themselves much farther than the 6-foot social distancing guidelines, and advised people to stay far apart. The study’s authors recommend people stay approximately 10 yards behind someone running quickly and approximately 20 yards behind someone biking fast. The particles mostly “entrain” themselves behind the person exercising, according to the study, so staying to the side of them may also help.
Sturgis said community members generally understand the situation and have respect for their health and that of their neighbors.
“I think that (the guidelines) should be easy enough to comply with,” Sturgis said. “Do yourself and your friends and neighbors and whatnot a favor and don’t get ‘em sick.”
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