Even outside on a trail, 6 feet of distance is necessary

People walk down a crowded path.
People walk and bike on the trails around Bde Maka Ska in Minneapolis on Sunday.
Evan Frost | MPR News

The outdoors have become a refuge for many Minnesotans cooped up in their homes during the coronavirus pandemic.

Gov. Tim Walz’s stay-at-home order allows people to go outside. Most parks and trails remain open in Minnesota. However, open spaces and fresh air don’t guarantee safety from COVID-19.

Health experts and parks officials say people must still maintain proper social and physical distancing of 6 feet or more.

“We really want to remind people that the outdoor exception to the governor’s stay-at-home order is just that — it's an exception. It's designed to maintain our physical and mental health,” said Kim Pleticha, assistant communications director for the state Department of Natural Resources.

When Walz announced his order, he said fresh air and exercise are important to health, so he made an exception allowing Minnesotans to go outdoors with social distancing.

Walking, hiking, running, biking, driving for pleasure, hunting and fishing are all allowed. The DNR isn’t canceling any fishing or hunting seasons, either. However, Walz cautioned people to “be smart about this.”

Here’s some advice from the DNR and health experts for following the governor’s order and staying safe outside.

  • You might need to leave. “If you are on a trail that does not allow for social distancing of 6 feet, then you need to go someplace else,” Pleticha said. “I just don't know how to be any more clear about that.” Same goes for parking lots: If there are a lot of cars at a park, she said turn around and try somewhere else.

  • Stay close to home. Pleticha didn’t put a distance on how far is too far, but she said people should be reasonable and exercise good judgment. “Close to home certainly is not 100 miles away with your boat hitched up to head on out and do something, even if you're going to attempt to maintain social distancing,” she said.

  • Try a new park, one that’s less traveled. Regional parks abound in the metro area. State parks and recreation areas are spread throughout the state. Avoid the more popular areas and try somewhere new.

  • Help others keep their distance. “Warn other trail users of your presence and as you pass to allow proper distance and step off trails to allow others to pass, keeping minimum recommended distances at all times. Signal your presence with your voice, bell or horn,” recommends the National Recreation and Park Association.

  • Protect park workers, too. The park association also says people should clean up before going to a park and bring their own trash bags, packing out their litter, so employees can stay safe from COVID-19.

  • Don’t go if you have any symptoms. This should be obvious: stay home if you’re sick.

  • Seriously, keep 6 feet apart. That means everyone — runners on a paved trail, mountain bikers on single-track, walkers on the sidewalk — should maintain the distance or stay home.