It felt just like any other spring day.
My son and I walked along woodsy trails, stopping occasionally to look at something interesting - turtles sunning on a log in a pond, Canadian geese alighting on the water. We jumped in puddles and kicked a ball back and forth.
We weren’t the only family exploring Five Rivers, the 450-acre nature preserve in Delmar.
But it wasn’t crowded, and people kept their distance, sometimes saying hi or waving, but never getting too close.
I’ve gone to Five Rivers a number of times since COVID-19 hit New York, and I’m always impressed by how seriously people seem to be taking social distancing. Hopefully this will continue as the weather improves, because I’d hate to see the preserve closed amid concerns that overcrowding will contribute to the spread of coronavirus.
We need the outdoors more than ever right now.
Getting outside is refreshing in the best of times, and feels like an unusually potent tonic when each day brings news of sickness and death. Exercise is rejuvenating, nature a place of solace. Being cooped up makes it all the more important that we find ways to get out.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 has robbed us of some of our more enticing outdoor spaces.
In Schenectady County, the Plotter Kill Preserve and Indian Kill Preserve have both been closed until further notice, as has Kaaterskill Falls, in Greene County. The Crossings, the 130-acre park in Colonie, has been closed to vehicular traffic. The town of Bolton closed the trail to the Pinnacle because “crowds were too big, and too many people were coming from outside the region.”
Closing parks and trails that are drawing such big crowds that social distancing is impossible makes sense.
What doesn’t make sense is shutting down all public space, as some communities in the U.S. have done. Making all parks and trails off-limits is an overreaction - and might even prove counterproductive, even harmful.
That’s because fresh air, sunshine and exercise are good for people’s immune systems and overall physical health.
A 2009 study of the success of outdoor hospitals during the 1918 influenza epidemic suggested that people be encouraged to “spend as much time outdoors as possible” during the next pandemic, which appears to be happening right now.
If you’ve spent any time outside, you probably already know that going for a walk or immersing yourself in nature is good for the heart, soul and mind. Knowing that it might actually improve our health during a pandemic should be all the encouragement we need to get out.
Thankfully, the Capital Region abounds with trails, parks and preserves, most of them still open.
I’d suggest seeking out spots that aren’t overrun with people.
Have a plan B - if you arrive at a park or trailhead that seems especially busy, go someplace else.
Use this time as an opportunity to check out lesser-known places and explore trails you’ve never been on. Many of our parks are under-used, but have plenty to offer.
I decided to visit a scenic spot I hadn’t been to in a long time, and was amply awarded.
My son, husband and I spent a relaxing morning at Normanskill Farm, a park and farm owned by the city of Albany.
We ambled on trails that ran along the river, caught a glimpse of the draft horses used by the city’s mounted police, hiked to a historic whipple truss bridge built in 1867. It was a beautiful day but, aside from a few dog walkers, hardly anyone was there.
It’s easy to fixate on all the things we can’t do at the moment.
Getting outside is one thing we can do.
And it might just make us feel better.