Celebrating Earth Day this year may be more complicated than usual, but it is still possible to enjoy the outdoors safely during the coronavirus pandemic.
City and state park officials are asking people to stay safe when going outside by following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and going to parks and trails nearest to one’s home.
Julie Ramey, the City of Bloomington Parks and Recreation community relations manager, said people need to continue to wash their hands frequently and stay home if they feel sick. Water fountains are shut off, and public restrooms are closed to limit the spread of germs on commonly touched surfaces.
“The whole pandemic situation is causing a lot of anxiety for people,” Ramey said. “Being able to go outside, being able to move, to exercise is also a crucial part of public health.”
Ramey said everyone should continue to adhere to social distancing. She said she recommended staying a significant distance away from other people at the park since more people might be out on nice days or space might be limited on trails.
“We've all heard the six-foot rule," Ramey said. "Eight feet is better. Ten feet is better yet."
Ramey said park workers have reported seeing an increase of people out in their spaces. She said she does not consider Bloomington parks and trails to be overcrowded, but some are more popular. Ramey said she recommends people use the Bloomington Parks & Recreation website to find the park nearest to their home to visit.
Division of State Parks Deputy Director Ginger Murphy said people should go to the state parks closest to them. Weekends with nice weather will typically be busier, but she has noticed more people coming on weekdays, Murphy said.
Murphy said people are still welcome to use the hiking trails, drive through the park, go fishing and use the boat ramps. Campgrounds, offices and public information centers will not be open. Bathroom availability is limited. Murphy said people are still able to contact the offices via phone, but they are not physically staffed. She also said the fee to enter the parks is suspended due to the parks not providing certain services.
“There are a lot of things to do, just that the facilities where you might directly encounter staff are closed at this point,” Murphy said.
Murphy said she recommends people bring their own water and snacks because those facilities will not be open. She also suggests being aware of how crowded the parking lots are when they drive up to hike on a trail.
“Take another trail, maybe one that you've not done before,” Murphy said. “That way people can spread out on the property.”
Indiana Forest Alliance volunteer Dave Simcox is very familiar with trails and parks in and around Monroe County. Below are many of his recommendations for parks and trails to visit all within 45 minutes of Bloomington. For more information about any of the parks, click the park name.
The forest contains a 1.6 mile loop trail that features highlands, cliffs and streams. Simcox said this is one of his favorite trails and is not commonly traveled.
“It’s just a gorgeous place that is not all that crowded,” Simcox said.
The loop trail within this preserve is estimated to be about 2.6 miles and is known for its sinkholes, ponds and wildflowers.
At this preserve, people can walk out onto a newly repaired boardwalk and four observation decks with a bog swamp under their feet. Simcox said there are aspects of this trail one will not see elsewhere, such as different species of plants and a bald eagles nest. The trail is flat and about 2.5 miles.
“It’s the sort of things that you won’t find in your typical public hiking trails,” Simcox said.
For a longer hike, Simcox said this preserve is an excellent option. The entire loop trail is about six miles with highlands, ridge tops and a ravine.
With a total of 11 open trails, the park has hills, ravines and ridges. One of which is the Ogle Hollow Nature Preserve Trail that features the rare Yellowwood tree. The Taylor Ridge Trail is currently closed.
The state park has a variety of trails all two miles or under with intensity levels ranging from easy to rugged. Park features include a limestone canyon, a creek, waterfalls and a diverse catalog of forest trees and plants.
This park is maintained by the City of Bloomington. The trail is about a mile with some rugged and steep points along the way. The two springs are also within the park with one viewable on the trail along with two caves and a wetland.
The forest has six different trails with a range of distances. The highlight trail for more intense hikers would be the Tecumseh Trail spanning 42 miles with views of Yellowwood Lake, spring wildflowers, hollows and streams. The trail begins near the head of Panther Creek and ends near the Morgan-Monroe State Forest office. There are five trailhead entrances leading to the trail.
The Tecumseh Trail continues through part of this forest. There are two moderate trails around three miles each and two more rugged trails about 10 miles. The Scout Ridge Nature Preserve has has two short trails.
In addition to enjoying Indiana’s largest inland lake, there are four trails, three of which are part of the Paynetown State Recreation Area.