This is not how we planned on celebrating the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. There were going to be marches, celebrations, and calls for action. But the world has changed in the last few months, and most events and social gatherings will likely be changed to virtual actions.
But in a strange way, Mother Earth is getting her big celebration in ways we never imagined. In this new, temporary time of social distancing and restrictions on leaving your home, people are turning to nature and the outdoors like never before. There are only so many Scrabble® games to play, movies to watch, and closets to clean. “Getting out” has a whole new meaning as we turn to one of the few activities left outside of our homes.
We saunter down city streets, stroll through suburban neighborhoods, and hit the hiking trails, all while staying six feet away from the next person. We hear the birds chirp. We see the trees and flowers explode with color. We inhale the sweet and earthy scents of spring. And we start to feel a little bit better.
Where can we go?
As gyms and yoga studios get shuttered and people are ordered to stay home to slow the spread of COVID-19, experts have recognized that getting outside is crucial for our mental and physical wellbeing, with the proper social distancing. Now is the time to find a sanctuary in your own neighborhood.
While some national and state parks have been closed, state parks in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware remain open. Governor Wolf of Pennsylvania issued “stay at home” orders in all counties across the state, but is allowing residents to engage in “outdoor activity, such as walking, hiking or running if they maintain social distancing.” Pennsylvania State parks and forests remain open at this time, but all facilities will be closed until at least the end of April. Trails, open spaces and parking areas are open and available for hiking and other “limited recreation.”
Philadelphians have been ordered to stay at home, but city parks, athletic fields and trails remain open. Playgrounds, athletic courts and all Parks and Rec buildings, including restrooms, have been closed.
In New Jersey, Governor Murphy has ordered the entire state to stay at home, with an exception to engage in outdoor activities. To date, all state parks remain open for hiking and other passive recreation with social distancing, but the Governor is allowing counties and municipalities to place restrictions on local parks. In fact, the Department of Environmental Protection candidly acknowledged the strong connection between exercise and health by including this statement in its Park Advisories: “Community health is crucial right now and exercising (walking, hiking, and biking) while observing social distancing practices can help ensure public health.”
In Delaware, Governor Carney has closed all nonessential businesses but has kept state parks open with no entrance fees until April 30. Park offices, nature centers, museums and playgrounds are closed.
There are so many beautiful open spaces in the Greater Philadelphia area with miles and miles of trails. Most of the trails for hiking, walking, biking, running and horseback riding at the 23 environmental education centers that comprise the Alliance for Watershed Education of the Delaware River (AWE) are open even though the centers themselves are closed at time of writing (please be sure to check with a center before you go!). All of the AWE centers are located along a Circuit Trail or a major connecting trail, and on waterways throughout the Delaware River Watershed in Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.
The Schuylkill River Trail (part of the Schuylkill River Greenways National Heritage Area, a member of AWE) is a wonderful place to escape even in the best of times, with over 75 miles of trails through Philadelphia, Montgomery and Chester Counties. Most of the trails are built over abandoned railroad lines, and wide enough to have six feet between you and others on the trail.
The John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum, another AWE center, is a nature lover’s oasis in the middle of the city. The country’s first urban refuge is home to a variety of fish, wildlife and plants native to the Delaware estuary. Hike, jog, or bike the wide trails around tidal marshes, open waters, mudflats and woodlands and you will not be disappointed!
AWE is also participating in the City Nature Challenge, a wonderful outdoors activity to celebrate nature and document species in urban areas on your mobile phone. Check out cncphilly.org and join by visiting iNaturalist.org or download the app from the AppStore or Google Play and look for City Nature Challenge 2020 in the Projects section. The City Nature Challenge runs April 23 through April 27.
Escape the indoors for a while, inhale the fresh air, and celebrate nature and all of its beauty and wonder.
This article originally appeared as part of a paid sponsorship with Philly Voice; the original content can be accessed here.