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City parks close

Social distancing stressed, even on outdoor trails

This is the parking lot at the Tourist Park Trailhead of the Noquemanon Trail Network and the North Country Scenic Trail, located off Marquette County Road 550. Local trail providers urge the public to practice social distancing to keep the trails accessible during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Journal photo by Christie Mastric)

MARQUETTE — Local trail providers are stressing the public needs to maintain the social distancing standard — keeping 6 feet away from others — so trails remain accessible during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the city of Marquette already has decided to close its parks for the time being.

A joint statement from the Noquemanon Trail Network, the North Country National Scenic Trail, Friends of Harlow Lake, Range Area Mountain Bike Association trails, the Upper Peninsula Land Conservancy and the city of Marquette noted Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive order of March 24 encourages recreational trail use, but the groups ask the community to follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to protect continued access.

Trails owned and/or maintained by these groups have experienced a significant increase in use within the last two weeks due to the changes in people’s daily lives brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“These recreational trail providers encourage the use of the trails for the many benefits they provide — it is well known that safe recreation in a natural, outdoor setting has innumerable mental and physical health benefits,” the statement reads.

With this is mind, trail organizations want the public to be aware of a few precautions.

The groups cautioned people not to push limits or take risks, which includes long drives to remote locations.

“Keep it chill and stay close to home so that you don’t cause more issues for our wonderful health care workers,” they said.

Trail groups aren’t currently able to maintain trails to their usual standards, so trail users need to be more aware of surroundings and look out for hazards, it said. It also noted that things such as garbage cans and restrooms aren’t available, so people should plan ahead. Users are asked to alert the appropriate trail organization if they see a potential hazard, and remember to follow the “Leave No Trace” ethic by packing out trash.

It suggested trail users avoid visiting crowded places, stressing that multiple hiking areas in Michigan have been closed because too many hikers were there at the same time. If users visit a trail and see the parking lot or trails are full, it’s suggested they visit another nearby trail.

In a YouTube video posted on Sunday, city of Marquette Mayor Jenna Smith said a significant number of people have been seen congregating in city parks, state parks, and on the city’s multi-use path.

The city has made a decision to temporarily close city parks, although the multi-use path will remain open.

“While the bike path will remain open for now, the city is working on temporary signage to remind people to stay at least 6 feet apart and to take alternative routes if the path is crowded,” Smith said.

She suggests walking on low-traffic neighborhood streets, especially in the afternoons when multi-use path traffic seems to be the highest.

Smith said the CDC recommends people wear face masks where it might be difficult to keep at least 6 feet apart.

“I would strongly urge you to start wearing a mask in public,” she said.

The trail providers’ statement touched on the same issue.

“Our community is at risk of having our recreational trails closed if users do not adhere to CDC guidelines,” the trail groups said, adding that crowding and leaving trash on trails is a public health hazard.

They also suggested people donate to these Upper Peninsula trail organizations.

“The nonprofits that maintain many of the trail systems in the U.P. don’t usually see this much trail use in March and April, and we’re staring at the downturn in the economy just like you are,” the groups said.

They said each organization has unique rules for trail use and individual responses to the executive order, so people are encouraged to check with the appropriate organization and/or property owner.

“Use of public recreational trails is deeply important to our community’s identity, health and well-being, and we’re all feeling that acutely right now,” the groups said. “It is our natural response to seek a sense of normalcy and peace in our well-loved trails, so we need to come together now and cooperate in order to protect our ability to keep the trails open.”

The trail providers’ websites are: UPLC, uplandconservancy.org; NTN, noquetrails.org; Friends of Harlow Lake at the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ Little Presque Isle Recreation Area, Michigan.gov/dnr; RAMBA, rambatrails.com; NCNST, northcountrytrail.org; and city of Marquette Parks and Recreation, marquettemi.gov.

“Think of the greater good during these times,” NTN Trails posted on its Facebook page.

Christie Mastric can be reached at cbleck@miningjournal.net.

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