Nature is open in Stowe — with some restrictions. This spring, standard mud season trail closures at least through Memorial Day still apply, with added guidelines specific to protecting public health and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now, more than ever, it is important for everyone to be getting outside for fresh air and exercise. And to do so safely — especially as the weather warms and more people hit the trails — we must all accept added levels of responsibility, courtesy and willingness to change some of our habits and expectations.
• Respect mud season trail closures, which typically run through Memorial Day weekend.
Hiking on wet soils and walking along the edge of the trail to avoid mud damages vegetation, erodes the soil, and widens the trail unnecessarily. Use your best judgment and turn back if you find a trail is too wet or muddy to walk on.
Dirt roads have been a great outlet for exercise and exploration this spring. Continue to enjoy safely walking, hiking, and biking along them.
• Check trail status and guidelines before you go. Visit the websites and contacts below. Guidance is evolving and subject to change.
• Spread out and be flexible. If a parking lot is full or too crowded to maintain social distancing, find another legal place to park or come back later. Consider having a backup destination in mind before leaving home. When possible, avoid popular trails at busy times, such as on weekends and fair-weather days.
• Observe signs at trailheads regarding specific safety guidelines and rules. Look out for new trail direction signs designed to help minimize interaction with other trail users.
• Maintain social distancing in parking areas and along trails. Do not congregate or tailgate in parking areas. If you do pass other people on the trail, announce your presence in advance with a friendly “Hello!” and wait for them to acknowledge you before passing at a distance.
• Maintain single file, even along wide trails, and step off to the side of the trail to allow others to pass. Stay aware and be considerate of others.
• Leash your dog. They are members of your household and need to keep their social distance as well. Dogs should always be under their handlers’ control, which means they are always within sight and earshot and are not allowed to stray onto neighboring private property even if other people are absent.
• Carry and wear a cloth face covering. Anytime you know others may be present, you should have your mask on, even while running or biking. Keeping it at the ready is OK if you can quickly and safely pull it up over your nose and mouth, doing this well before you come within 6 feet of others.
If you are hiking with children, set expectations before getting out of the car. Children older than 2 can and should be encouraged to use cloth masks or face coverings.
• Be respectful and patient with each other. This is a challenging and stressful time for everyone. Assume good intentions on the part of your fellow trail users and, when helping to educate others about current guidance for responsible recreation, do so in a friendly and respectful manner.
Our local trail networks are managed by different landowners and organizations. For up-to-date information on trail closures and status, as well as user guidelines, which are subject to change, refer to the following websites and contacts:
• Land managed by the state Department of Forests, Parks & Recreation, including the Stowe Pinnacle and Pinnacle Meadow, Bingham Falls and Brownsville Forest: trailfinder.info.
• For information about the Long Trail and its side trails, contact the Green Mountain Club Visitor Center at 802-244-7037 or email@example.com.
• For more statewide information on outdoor recreation and COVID-19 guidelines: fpr.vermont.gov/recreation/outdoor-recreation-and-covid-19.
Elisabeth Fenn is with the Stowe Land Trust, Rachel Fussell is executive director of the Stowe Trails Partnership and Tom Jackman is Stowe’s town planner.