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Water Recreation Booms Amidst COVID-19: Some Tips from the Cumberland River Compact!

A sunny Saturday on the Red River in Adams, Tennessee. On your drive, you can see clusters of vehicles pulled off the road at popular bridge crossings where you can hike down to the creek and plop your chairs in the water and the kids can swim. The kayak put-in at the Red River Campground is bustling with folks looking to get out and enjoy Tennessee’s most important asset: its beautiful, abundant waterways.

A recent Tennessean article revealed that demand for water recreation is so high, outfitters and retailers are feeling the pressure to keep stocked up with gear and watercraft!

“Everybody’s wanting to get out on the water. It fills a big void for people just trying to get out of the house,” said Janice Martin, owner of Caney Fork Outdoors. “We have people who, for years, have not enjoyed the outdoors. Hopefully, this will carry on to their children to become outdoor enthusiasts which is something the kids desperately need (Tennessean).”

There’s no doubt that water recreation in the Cumberland River basin has skyrocketed, as have many other recreational activities that provide some comfort and sense of reconnection to nature during these difficult times–hiking, biking, gardening, fishing, and birdwatching, to name a few. These activities have a positive impact on both physical and mental health, which we talked about in a recent blog post.  

To show how outdoor recreation activities have shifted since the pandemic,  the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics and the Pennsylvania State University collected data from over 1,000 outdoor recreationists on recreational patterns before, during, and after the pandemic. Their findings: 

With the surge of people reconnecting with outdoor spaces on land and in the water, it is important to be mindful of reducing our impact on these natural areas. Below are 6 ways to stay safe and healthy while enjoying these spaces, and to help to preserve them for future use.

Prioritize Your Health 

Getting outside is a great way to stay mentally and physically healthy. However, with an increased volume of people looking to do just that, you might want to take extra precautions around areas that are highly trafficked for your safety and the safety of others. Pay attention to local guidance around your destination and make sure to bring a face covering and maintain 6ft between you and other visitors. 

If you’re getting out on the water, make sure you know if that water is healthy or not by checking our iCreek Map tool. Use the search bar to type in your address or stream name and click on the stream segment to see its status. 

Expect Closures 

Facilities and services may not be available at parks, campgrounds, and nature centers. Make sure to plan ahead to have water, food, toilet paper, and trash bags. Be sure to check the websites of the areas you plan to visit to stay up to date on information and to be as prepared as possible. 

A Message from Tennessee State Parks:

Tennessee State Parks encourage Tennesseans to visit a park that is close to home when selecting a vacation destination and practice social distancing. Overnight accommodations are open, but availability may be limited as park officials work to maintain social distancing and enhanced cleaning protocols during the COVID-19 pandemic. Tennessee State Parks advises everyone to bring and wear a mask when entering public facilities or in areas where six feet of separation is not possible. TNStateParks.com provides additional tips and safety precautions on the Keeping Visitors Healthy page of the website.

Many rural areas economies thrive off of outdoor recreation traffic. However make sure, if you are leaving an urban area to get a little farther away, to check what messaging the town you are going to is putting out regarding outside visitors during COVID-19. Some rural towns are able to stay insulated from the pandemic and are asking outsiders not to visit during this time. 

Pack Out Your Trash! 

Whether you’re ca-brewing with friends, hiking the trails, fishing or any other outdoor activity, PLEASE take your trash with you. We can’t tell you how many beverage containers, bait containers, and other trash we find on river cleanups. Increased traffic to these popular areas means more litter and you can help prevent that! 

No one likes to get out on the water only to see tons of trash on the river banks. 

Avoid Times and Places of High Use 

One of the easiest ways to reduce the impact on an area and on others is to go out during off-times. Many places are now providing real-time information on visitor volume. Avoiding non-peak hours and weekends will help spread out traffic and alleviate the stress of competing with the crowd. 

Practice Leave No Trace 

There are so many beautiful and popular landmarks and paddles in the basin. But all the foot, boat, and vehicle traffic wear these areas over time. Trails get widened, riverbanks can get eroded, and natural areas can be trampled. Remember when you are out that what makes these areas beautiful is their natural condition! Practicing Leave No Trace principles let us recreate while respecting the area we are recreating in. 

And shout out to those that pick up their pet waste! Pet waste not picked up in these highly populated areas gets into our waters causing E.Coli contamination. No one wants that! So as gross as it is to carry it with you– there are many solutions to this problem–it’s grosser to step in it or swim in it!

Learn more about the 7 Leave No Trace Principles and be a good steward! 

Be a Kind Human 

Everyone is going through hard times right now and trying to seek a little peace in the great outdoors. Be respectful of people’s space, manage your canine friends, smile, wave, and help out park and grounds staff by doing your part to maintain these spaces. 

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