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Be Safe while Exploring Wisconsin’s Great Outdoors

By May 22, 2020 No Comments

DNR says: Recreate responsibly close to home, travel only for necessity


Heading into a holiday weekend after being at home for months can have the most responsible outdoor enthusiast wanting to head to our second home, our favorite state park, or beloved nature trail. Biking, hiking, camping, boating and fishing are on the minds of Wisconsinites more than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially as the summer months are upon us.

Outside Is a Safe Place to Be

Scientists say one of the safest places to be as we fight to contain and curb the novel coronavirus is outside. An outdoor environment offers a greater likelihood of breathing uncontaminated air and touching sanitized surfaces. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states: “COVID-19 is thought to spread mainly through close contact  (within about 6 feet) from person-to-person” in an enclosed area. Also, recent research shows ultraviolet (UV) light kills the coronavirus on surfaces with sunlight exposure.

What Outdoor Enthusiasts Need to Know

Still, as you venture outside more as Wisconsin reopens, there still is a threat of catching and spreading the coronavirus, so stay updated with CDC guidelines to protect yourself.

Local public health officials emphasize two main precautions for outdoor enthusiasts to take.

  1. Keep your distance (at least 6 feet).
  2. Sanitize your hands frequently.

Experts also recommend refraining from congregating in large groups and wearing face masks when social distancing is difficult to do.

“Large gatherings of people in sustained, close contact greatly increases the risk for spread of the virus among those who attend the events and to the communities these individuals return to after the event,” said Cassy Stefl, Community Health Educator for Outagamie County Health and Human Services, a Be Safe Wisconsin partner. She also advised against going to places where safety measures are not in place.

Additionally, public health officials encourage residents to travel to recreational areas within their home communities and adhere to existing and new state park rules.

State Parks, Forests and Trails

The State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is accommodating residents interested in outdoor activities by returning the state park system to regular operating hours: 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week, beginning Saturday, May 23.

Still, the modifications come with special conditions. On the DNR Facebook page, it stated: “The priority continues to be the safety and health of our visitors and staff and we still ask the public to continue recreating responsibly close to home, practicing social distancing, frequently washing their hands, and only traveling for necessity.” Officials also encourage visitors to wear face coverings in situations where social distancing may be difficult, including in outdoor spaces.

If you are heading to a state park or trail this Memorial Day weekend or in the weeks to come, the DNR said to keep the following in mind:

  • An annual park sticker or trail pass is required. It can be purchased online, or by calling 1-888-305-0398.
  • All state parks are limiting the number of visitors. Check here before traveling to one: Wisconsin State Park Capacity Updates. Visitors may be denied entry to the park until existing visitors leave.
  • Visitors must take their trash with them when leaving a park.

Also, take note of these closings of state parks and activities and facilities within them.

  • Until July 1, Northeast Wisconsin’s Rock Island State Park, is closed to all users, including camping.
  • Until at least June 7, all group, family, and indoor group campsites will remain closed, and events will be cancelled.
  • Until June 3, day-use area restrooms at park properties will be closed. After that date, a limited number of them will reopen for public use, so plan accordingly with bathroom breaks, and bring hand sanitizer.
  • Until further notice, all other facilities currently closed such as towers, shelters, playgrounds, nature centers, headquarters, entrance stations and concession buildings remain closed to the public.

Throughout the state, there are limited remote, backpack and boat-in campsites available on a first-come first-serve basis. The DNR has a listing of those properties. Also, boat launches are open. Anglers and recreational boaters must practice social distancing and keep travel to a minimum. Bait-and-tackle shops are back in business, but public health officials advise online ordering and curbside pickup for the protection of all – anglers, boaters and shop workers.

The DNR said it expects to “turn the dial” even more on additional outdoor recreation opportunities, amenities and services at state parks further into the summer months. Updates can be found here.

Overall Outdoor Recreation Guidelines: Hiking, Biking, Kayaking and More

Beyond boating and fishing, bikers, hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts need to proceed with caution, especially when it comes to social distancing.

For those wanting to rent boats, kayaks, canoes, paddle boats, golf carts, or ATVs, be sure to ask about how rental shops are cleaning equipment after each use. Customers are encouraged to keep their distance through curbside pickups and drop-offs.

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), offers additional reopen guidelines specific to the outdoor recreation industry to keep employees and customers safe. They too emphasize employees wearing face masks, properly disinfecting rental items in between uses and practicing social distancing. The guidelines also speak to signage instructing customers of their new policies.

All government agencies are adjusting operations as conditions change, so it is best to visit park websites or call in advance to businesses and organizations for the latest information on recreating safely in Wisconsin’s great outdoors.