Forest Journal: Responsible recreation in the ''new normal"
What was the last trip you took before everything changed?
Out of nowhere, a memory came to mind recently and it left me stunned — not because I had ventured anywhere out of the ordinary, but because of how much we took for granted.
It was a frozen day late in February and my children and I packed into a car with my parents for a half-hour drive to Monson Center in Milford and Hollis, one of many properties preserved by the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests.
We had managed to get two squirmy 4-year-olds in full snowsuits out of the car and onto the forest-lined dirt road that winds itself from Federal Hill Road into what was once the early colonial settlement of Monson Village.
Our hike didn’t start off well. The kids were cranky, and we weren’t sure how far they would walk.
But, in between stopping to put back on little mittens and pull up wool socks, there were, in fact, moments of peace. The sun was shining and there was ice to break with sticks. My mom encouraged the boys to keep walking just a little bit further by pointing out moss and craggy rocks. We were lucky to meet the caretaker of Monson, Russ Dickerman, and visit the property’s small museum.
I remember asking my boys to stop and listen. We heard the wind, mostly, and our dogs crunching through dry leaves. It was enough that they could stop and listen at all. On the way home, we pulled up to Lull Farm in Hollis for whoopie pies and cold drinks.
Today, I can’t hug my parents. We can’t plan a day of hiking north of the notches or moseying from brewery to brewery. And, taking another trip to Monson is off for the spring.
Although we now need to bring masks and keep distance out on the trail, I count myself lucky to live in a place where our stay-at-home orders make an exception for exercise (with adequate social distancing) and our governor encourages everyone to hike local.
It’s a message that’s critical to protecting our natural spaces and every New Hampshire resident — and to ensure we can continue to access trails as the situation evolves.
“Collectively, NH Audubon, The Nature Conservancy, and the Society for the Protection of NH Forests own and manage more than 90,000 acres of conservation land across New Hampshire. Currently, we are keeping our lands and trails open for public use, with drive-by monitoring to assess use levels.…
“We are pleased to see people across the Granite State experiencing the restorative powers of a simple walk in the woods, and are equally pleased that most are heeding the message to enjoy those benefits locally and only when a place is not crowded.”
Since then, I — like you — have looked for new, nearby trails to explore with my family, or revisited old favorites that we might not have hiked in the spring before.
Along with the healthy recreation tips the Forest Society has shared with thousands of hikers, I also have a few guidelines that my family and I use to explore nature safely.
Since our winter hike two months ago, my family and I have walked a lot of new trails. We’ve often made it only halfway, returning with tired kids on our shoulders. But, for the time being, we are grateful to be healthy and be outside.
Tips for Families to Recreate Responsibly
- Stay local.
It’s much harder to have a Plan B when you arrive at a closed trailhead and you have kids in tow. And with few options for bathroom breaks, it’s not the time to head north and hike Mount Major unless you live nearby.
Yes, there are many people from out-of-state who are visiting our wild spaces in droves but there are also many hidden gems that Granite Staters can explore in the meantime and do our part to keep everyone safe.
- Be overprepared.
That includes carrying a Hike Safe card and face masks.
It’s more critical than ever to purchasing the state’s Hike Safe card and pack the hiking essentials (see hikesafe.com). The White Mountain National Forest and New Hampshire Fish and Game note that social distancing doesn’t apply in search and rescue situations. No one expects to get hurt. Could you carry your child down a rocky trail if they get a sprain?
- Know before you go.
Check multiple sources on trail conditions, closures and popularity, including social media.
For example, some of the Forest Society’s more popular reservations, including Monson Center, now have alerts within our Forest Reservation Guide (forestsociety.org/reservation-guide). These properties can be crowded with narrow trails and common touch points that make it difficult to avoid contact with other visitors.
The state has implemented a reservation system at Mount Monadnock. At many other destinations, if the parking lot is full, that means the trail is too.
Anna Berry is digital outreach manager for the Society of the Protection of New Hampshire Forests. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Forest Journal is published in the NH Union Leader every other Sunday.