State offers guidance on outdoor activity

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The Agency of Natural Resources has offered guidance to Vermonters on how to venture outside safely amid the coronavirus outbreak.

"We need to choose smart ways when we're thinking about outdoor recreation," Julie Moore, secretary of the agency, said at a news conference with Gov. Phil Scott on April 3.

The agency advises would-be hikers and cyclists to find areas close to home to explore, limiting their distance from home to 10 miles and, if driving, only doing so with household members.

"Now is not the time to explore far-flung corners of Vermont, but rather to focus on backyard adventures," Moore said.

Outdoor adventurers should also continue to practice social distancing while outside, maintaining a distance of at least 6 feet from others. "This includes having your dog on a leash and close to you," the agency noted in its guidance.

Vermonters should take care to select only "low-risk activities to avoid injury," which will assist in lowering the burden on the state's health care system, according to the agency's guidance. Those venturing outdoors can check trailfinder.info to find out if certain trails are open during this time.

State parks, state forests and wildlife management areas remain open, though restrooms and other facilities at many such areas have been closed.

The region's state parks include Emerald Lake State Park in East Dorset, Lowell Lake State Park in Londonderry and Lake Shaftsbury State Park.

Trails overseen by the Equinox Preservation Trust, the nonprofit that manages more than 900 acres of land on the eastern side of Mount Equinox, remain open.

"On behalf of the board of directors for the Equinox Preservation Trust, we are proud to be a source of refuge and a getaway for outdoor enthusiasts, year-round," the group said in a Facebook post on March 18. "As the local community experiences what has become increasingly referred to as 'unprecedented times,' we are more aware of our role as an asset to the well-being of all Preserve trail users."

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The group advised hikers to avoid Pond Loop and Flatlanders, two trails that "become excessively muddy during early spring," and to "use puncheon bridges which have been set out specifically for this purpose and/or use higher and drier trails."

Rick LaDue, the organization's forest and trails steward, said last week the group has no intention of closing the trails but that they have seen a lot of use in recent weeks.

LaDue suggested that hikers vary their routes rather than using the same trail each day. He also encouraged visitors to make use of Burr and Burton Academy's student parking lot, to which the trail system links directly, as the group's primary parking lot on West Union Street is often overwhelmed. The group has an agreement with BBA related to the school's lot, LaDue said.

EPT is also encouraging people to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to help slow the spread of the coronavirus and to learn more about the Vermont Community Foundation's philanthropic response to COVID-19 at vermontcf.org.

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A trail map and guide are available on the nonprofit's website, equinoxpreservationtrust.org.

The town of Dorset's trail system, which includes Owls Head Town Forest, remains open, Town Manager Rob Gaiotti wrote in an email on April 6.

The town is encouraging people to adhere to guidelines that align with the ones promulgated by state government.

"We haven't had any problems yet, and hope we don't," Gaiotti wrote. "We'd hate to have to restrict access to these places people love so much."

More information about Dorset's hiking options is available at dorsetvt.org/hike.html.

The Rupert-based nonprofit Merck Forest and Farmland Center, which offers more than 30 miles of trails, has announced that its property and trails "will remain open to the public from dawn until dusk" but that its buildings, including its visitor center, "will be closed until further notice" and its programming cancelled at least through April 12.

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The group will be providing updates regarding access and programming on its website, merckforest.org.

Last month, the group launched its "Virtual Merck Get Outdoor Program," an initiative intended "to help provide you with activities you can do with your family during this time of uncertainty," it said on Facebook. The first video featured a guide to constructing a "nature journal."

Liz Ruffa, the group's advancement director, said that the nonprofit is "working quickly and nimbly to come up with creative ways to offer online resources" related to the outdoors.

Bromley Mountain, however, is off limits.

The ski area has modified its usual uphill travel policy to close the mountain to all activity due to hazards and to avoid taxing rescue service amid the pandemic.

Normally, Bromley allows hikers, skiers and others to earn their turns by hiking up and skiing or riding down but announced March 23 that policy was no longer in effect because of the virus.

"Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Bromley Mountain is currently closed to all activity," the notice stated. "No uphill travel, skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing or sledding is allowed. Equipment and environmental hazards exist. There are no services available. Any injury will further tax a system that relies on a small group of dedicated rescue personnel serving not only the mountain but all our neighbors. Please be safe, for yourself and for the community.

"Forgive our bluntness," the notice continued. "We hope to return to our standard policy as soon as we can."

Contact Luke Nathan at lnathan@benningtonbanner.com. Contact Darren Marcy at dmarcy@manchesterjournal.com.


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