During the COVID-19 pandemic, parks, trails and various snippets of nature have become essential to the mental and physical well being of many. Green spaces perfect for exercise, stress reduction and a break from quarantine are plentiful in the Austin area.
According to a recent survey by the National Parks and Recreation Association, 83% of adults feel that visiting local parks and trails is essential for their mental and physical health during the current pandemic.
The rising popularity brings responsibility to keep ourselves safe while also respecting the parks and trails by following guidance from health experts and local officials regarding proper outdoor behavior.
Although if your plans were to visit this weekend they’ll have to wait Austin’s parks have been made off-limits to visitors.
The City of Austin is closing all parks and recreational facilities over the Fourth of July weekend to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Travis County is also closing all of its parks starting Thursday at 8 p.m. until next Tuesday at 8 a.m. The closures were prompted by increasing number of cases and hospitalizations.
If the threat of COVID-19 continues to rise Travis County parks has said that parks could remain closed past the holiday.
But when they open again whether you’re hiking on an urban trail or a more rugged, secluded hiking trail precautionary measures should be taken to ensure that your hike is safe and enjoyable.
Since the beginning of June, Austin-Travis County EMS says it has responded to 17 calls reporting people who are lost or hurt on the Greenbelt. Although this number isn’t much different compared to previous years, there’s no doubt park and trail usage is up as other forms of entertainment and activity are shut down.
"More people are exploring the Greenbelt and may not have much experience and find themselves lost or injured," said Commander Mike Benavides.
Benavides notes the importance of being prepared and bringing all the essentials for surviving an unplanned night on the trail, especially a whistle.
"If you're injured, and you have to signal for help, you can use the whistle to let people know you need help. Or if it's dark you can use it to help us locate you," said Commander Benavides.
The average person can walk a mile in 15 to 20 minutes. However, hiking on a trail can take a lot longer than this. Carefully calculate how long your hike will take or you might end up still on the trail after dark or without enough water to last you the entire hike.
Search online or in hiking guides for specific trail information like distance, duration and difficulty. Online reviews can give you an idea of what you may be getting into.
"Preparation is the key, having situational awareness of your location, make sure that you let someone know where you’re going and when you’re expecting to return," says Commander Benavides.
Here’s 5 more tips for safely hiking this summer:
Carry identification and include name, phone number, medical information and an emergency contact number.
Check the weather and dress accordingly.
Avoid side trails and stick to established trails.
Pack extra water and snacks.
Remain aware of your surroundings.
For more tips and information about hiking in Austin-Travis County visit Summer Safety on austintexas.gov.
Clarification: An earlier version of this story reported that the Greenbelt would be open for reservations over the Fourth of July weekend. We have since updated to reflect that the Greenbelt is included in citywide park closures due to the coronavirus.