Hitting Our Parks and Other Outdoor Playlands

Hitting Our Parks and Other Outdoor Playlands

What a summer it has been! Back in the spring when the shutdown first began many people in the hospitality business were panicked about the prospects of a slim summer season. And now, look at how it has panned out. Our mountain and beach towns are booming, our national parks are overflowing with visitors, there’s nary an RV or camper available to rent, many choose to bike, kayak, SUP and other outfitters for fun outdoor toys have sold out and our scenic byways are packed with road trippers. Thank goodness the country has not run out of ice cream!

People are enjoying the relaxing benefits of the great outdoors more than ever. Too much so in some places where our national parks are being overrun and essential workers can’t keep up with essential jobs such as emptying the garbage or cleaning the restrooms. And unfortunately many of these new-founded nature lubbers have not discovered one of the golden rules of the outdoors: Pack It In/Pack It Out. That’s loosely translated into whatever you bring in, you take out; that includes human waste. Or, at the very least, dig a hole and cover up your business. Always think in terms of Leave No Trace.

Fortunately the Great American Outdoors Act was just passed and billions of dollars will be spent to improve the infrastructure of our nation’s national parks. This funding is needed more than ever with the coronavirus pandemic, since spending time outside is certainly more than a trend. Plus, once most people have a taste of the tranquility and relaxation offered by time spent in nature, they realize how much it adds to their life and how much it’s needed.

America’s national parks are magnificent but with all the crowds these days, it’s a good idea to turn to state parks, wildlife preserves and other outdoor spaces for recreating. They, too, are experiencing an uptick in visitors but with the right planning and timing (think early morning or late evening or in other words sunrise and sunset), you can beat the masses. Selecting the right green space is key toensuring a good time out of doors.

Many people are, in fact, discovering what’s in their own backyard. Indeed, the staycation is more popular than ever. Silvio Martelli, owner of Discovery Map Niagara Falls USA, shared one such experience with the Map Geek. He and his family were planning to vacation in Florida but instead took in the sights at their own world-famous destination. They did everything that most tourists do: They took the scenic trolley to the Maid of the Mist where, like everyone else, they became completely drenched on this renowned boat ride that takes you oh-so close to the falls. They went down to the Hurricane Deck at the Cave of the Winds where they were soaked again and they even did a whirlpool jet boat tour where they were sprayed yet again, this time in the treacherous class 5 Niagara rapids. With each of these activities, they were enjoying the sites that most people travel hundreds–if not thousands–of miles to experience. And, of course, in all these instances, they encountered a lot of visitors (although obviously the social distancing was much easier to put into place on the jet boat tours).

But did you know that Niagara Falls is also known for its hiking? A lot of people don’t and that’s why there are some trails within the area where you can still admire the magnificence of Niagara Falls and the Niagara River without being squeezed in with a bunch of tourists. Silvio and his family did lots of hiking on the Whirlpool Rapids Trail. The Devil’s Hole Trail and the Gorge Railway Trail are popular as well. “The most secret trails are the Rivers Edge Trail and the Artpark Gorge Trail,” Silvio says. “They’re both parallel to one another, but one is higher up, about mid level in the gorge and the other is lower down, closer to the river.”

It sounds as though you’re really missing out if you don’t explore nature when in Niagara Falls. “I’ve always enjoyed the Niagara Gorge,” Silvio continues. “I hang out around the gorge when I want to get out into nature far more often than taking a trip down to the waterfalls. Each trail is unique in its own way and offers something different to explore. Some trails take you down to the dangerous rapids, some trails provide panoramic views of Niagara Falls. It’s also cool walking underneath some of the suspension bridges that span the gorge into Ontario, Canada.”

If you’re not much into hiking, you can also take a trip out to Lockport to see the Lockport Locks as highlighted in The Almost Complete Guide to Niagara Falls blog post. The locks and also the businesses on Webster Street next to the Canal in The Tonawandas are lesser known and not as heavily traveled by tourists.

Wherever you go, whether it’s in Niagara Falls or some other part of the world, Silvio suggests you keep the following in mind:

-use caution

-never hike alone

-carry in/carry out (That’s another way to say Pack It In/Pack It Out.)

-be aware of falling rocks

-stay on marked trails

-never enter the water

-avoid poison ivy

-camping, fires & alcohol are prohibited

-remember that hours are from dawn to dusk

Outdoor recreating is a fun and wondrous activity but it can turn south fast, especially if a big storm comes up. Lots of other tips could be added to that list including making sure you have plenty of hydration, snacks and sunscreen. It’s also important to carry extra layers because the weather can change fast, especially in the mountains.

Whatever you do, wherever you go, the Map Geek of course suggests you bring a map! Or, at least stay on the trail and sign in at the designated trailhead. Always, always, always be respectful of nature and also those around you. When crossing people on the trail, respect social distancing and mask-wearing guidelines during these COVID-19 times.

We will get through all of this, especially with the healing power of nature.

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