National Public Lands Day, on Sept. 26, is one of the five days when admission to national parks is free.
Thousands of people will be in the parks on National Public Lands Day and millions will be in the parks this year to enjoy nature and perhaps look for a boost in spirit in the midst of the pandemic and other unsettling issues.
Here’s some advice for having a safe time during your visit to a national park – whether on National Public Lands Day or any other day.
Safety in national parks during the pandemic
Even though many national parks provide wide-open spaces, that doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to social distance in every situation. So bring a face mask with you.
Keep in mind that the National Park Service encourages wearing masks but does not require mask wearing even if the state the park is in requires masks.
Visitor centers and popular viewing locations can be quite crowded, and you won’t be able to maintain a six-foot distance from other park visitors. Some trails also will be crowded.
You can check with the park’s website or at the visitor center to get advice about which trails to hike.
The GSMNP has a #SmokiesSafe campaign:
- Delay your trip if you are sick.
- Avoid crowded areas.
- Maintain social distancing with other park visitors and with park staff and volunteers.
- Wash your hands regularly – and bring your own hand sanitizer.
You want the hike you take to be a good experience for everyone in your hiking group. Even a short hike can turn out poorly if you select a hike that isn’t appropriate for everyone or if someone isn’t wearing shoes suitable for the trail.
Every year rangers at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park make about 100 search and rescues, primarily for park visitors who have gotten injured while hiking.
Nancy “Seal Mom” East and Chris “Pacer” Ford are in their third week of hiking the 900 miles of trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park as a fundraiser for GSMNP’s Preventive Search and Rescue (PSAR) program.
The hiking duo’s goal is to raise $60,000.
Each week during Nancy and Chris’ Tour de Smokies, I’m posting on the Friends of the Smokies blog about hiking safety, with advice from Nancy.
Advice includes hike planning and navigation tools, footwear and hiking poles, and food and drink for the trail.
Nancy is posting photos and video during their Tour de Smokies on her Facebook page — Hope and Feather Travels.
You can support Nancy and Chris’ fundraising effort by making a donation to Friends of the Smokies.
You also can check the National Park Service’s list of the Ten Essentials as you prepare for your hike.
Remember that the planning you do for your visit to a national park — selecting activities appropriate for your group, packing for a hike, and wearing shoes for walking — will have a big impact on how much you enjoy your visit.
A special shoutout to Outdoor Afro, Latino Outdoor, the Black Birders movement, Latria Graham and others who are working to help national parks and other outdoor spaces be more inclusive and welcoming to Blacks and People of Color.