Guidelines for Getting Back Outdoors During the Pandemic
As we become increasingly anxious to get back out and enjoy outdoor activities, it is imperative for individual and public health for us to remain conscious of national and state guidelines for outdoor engagement. Currently, the state of Virginia is under a set of regulations defined as “Phase Two” by Governor Northam, which encompasses restrictions on businesses, social distancing, hygiene and public demeanor, and outdoor recreational spaces, extending to public/private land use and wilderness. Phase 3 is expected to go into effect on July 1st.  Following proper distancing guidelines can help ensure that you and your loved ones are still able to safely get outdoors during the pandemic!
General Overview and Recreation in Aquatic Spaces
The Department of Conservation and Recreation lists all of the following as open for use: hiking, biking and equestrian trails, campgrounds excluding those at Twin Lakes State Park, cabin and group campsites, bunkhouses, bike and boat rentals in most parks, tidal and swimming beaches, fishing and boat amenities, picnic tables and grills, restrooms, and cabins. Although these resources are generally open to the public, certain resources and locations in these categories may have more specific restrictions, so be sure to check the web site  for information on particular areas. Beachgoers must adhere to social distancing guidelines: groups of more than 50 beachgoers will be prohibited; no team sports or groups of umbrellas. You can find a full list of the beaches currently open at this website . In order to look up boat and bike rentals, check the website of the individual park you plan to visit for more information.
General Park-Specific and Distancing Guidelines
As Virginia’s phased openings continue, state parks and park areas will continue to adhere to social distancing guidelines and general safety guidelines for now. The policy specifically requires that:
“Anyone planning to visit a park for the remainder of spring and through summer should anticipate changes to normal park operations. Some facilities remain closed, and other amenities will not be available as outlined below. Park guests are encouraged to recreate at parks close to home. Strict social distancing requirements will remain in place. Group sizes are limited to 50 people. Guests must keep at least 6 feet apart from other guests. Anyone who is sick or has symptoms consistent with COVID-19 should stay home.” For camping, “…all lots rented for short-term stays of less than 14 nights (and not owned by individuals) must maintain a minimum of 20 feet between units.”
In addition, there is to be “no physical sharing of recreation or sports equipment unless it is cleaned and disinfected with an EPA-approved disinfectant.” Finally, the state strongly recommends that public campgrounds must encourage visitors to wear face masks. Adhering to these guidelines will ensure that nature-goers are still able to immerse themselves in the outdoors during the pandemic!
Shenandoah National Park
Shenandoah National Park is fully open to the public 24 hours a day, and campgrounds adhere to the same regulations listed above within state parks. Travelling safely and preparing for your trip hygienically are imperative. There are several structures that still remain closed, including Pinnacles Picnic Grounds, Dickey Ridge Visitor Center, and Massanutten Lodge and Rapidan Camp historic structures.
State Forest Guidelines
The Virginia Department of Forestry adheres to the National Park Service guidelines; thus, all rules applying to Shenandoah National Park apply to National Forests. For George Washington National Forest, guidelines persist, and many recreation areas are temporarily closed. A full list of these sites can be accessed at this site.
These past 3-4 months of self-isolation and quarantining have taken a toll on us all. As such, it is important that we all look out for our mental and physical health in ways that still ensure adherence to state and local COVID-specific regulations. Wild Virginia strongly recommends that all participants in outdoor activities wear a mask if they are able, pack hand sanitizer, and are conscientious of their impact on the outdoor spaces they choose to visit. Following the proper distancing guidelines will help you stay safe, while still enjoying the outdoors during the COVID-19 pandemic. Happy trails!
By James Keese and Catie Leigh
Posted with permission from Steven David Johnson