By Bill Cooper
U.S. campgrounds have received word they can open for the summer season. The news has sparked interest among newbies and veteran campers alike. The COVID-19 pandemic kept many outdoor enthusiasts at bay for weeks. Now the tents, backpacks, and sleeping bags are being dusted off and packed up for an outdoor adventure.
Outdoor activities like solo camping, or small group camping, have less risk of coronavirus exposure than indoor activities. Homeland security has said repeatedly that the virus “dies quickest in the presence of direct sunlight.” And recent studies of over 300 COVID-19 infections found only one case which originated through outside exposure.
However, safer doesn’t mean completely safe. Individuals still need to take precautions by avoiding confined areas, overcrowded areas, and close contact. Distancing oneself while camping is still recommended, especially if anyone in your group has been exposed in the previous 14 days.
Those planning camping getaways should consider the following to insure a safe trip.
Plan ahead. Continue to do your research. Call, text, or e-mail your intended destination to acquire the most up-to-date information. Situations can change overnight and rules change with them. Enforcement of newly established rules change, too. Attempt to plan your trip at the least busy times. Avoid weekends and holidays, if at all possible. Thousands of people are trying to get outside and enjoy summer trips. Establish a backup plan if the information or situation changes - such as boat ramps and parking lots being full.
Know the common areas in public areas, such as campgrounds, tent sites, heavily used trails, and picnic areas. They will be more densely populated, and therefore increase the risk of COVID-19 contact. Remember that just because you follow the rules, doesn’t mean that every else does the same. Check to see how often showers and bathrooms are disinfected. Consider carrying your own cleaning supplies.
One of the safest approaches to camping this summer is to stay local. There you will be more familiar with available resources and medical attention should it be needed. Use caution on gas, food, or bathroom breaks as you travel. In these locations is where you are most likely to encounter asymptomatic spreaders of the disease. Satisfy your camping urges by camping locally and avoiding the bucket list trips that would take you far away from home.
Campgrounds in the Meramec River Valley are re-opening and most have great reputations for cleanliness and service. Bass River Resort, Huzzah Valley Resort, Garrison’s River Resort, and The Rafting Company, all near Steelville, are all quality establishments.
As restrictions become more relaxed in the future as the pandemic subsides, you will be more comfortable going outside your immediate community to find other camping and outdoor opportunities. Our National Park Service is known for quality and breaks down the types of camping available: backyard, close to home, in a car, with an RV, or in a remote area.
National parks, such as the nearby Ozark National Scenic Riverways, are a great option for campers. You can check online to see which parks are open. As of June 1, two thirds of the 419 units of the National Park Service were open. Again, you can check online for reservations and permit requirements. Keep in mind that even though a park may be open, some restrictions on bathrooms and some buildings may still be in place. Road and trail usage may still be restricted as well.
Missouri State Parks are open but getting a reservation any time soon may be difficult. I recently tried online to get a two day reservation in three different parks during the week. All were completed booked. Plan as far ahead as possible. It will improve your odds of acquiring a spot to camp.
Plan for the essentials when you do head out on a camping trip. Take along alcohol-based hand sanitizer, and enough soap and water to wash your hands at your campsite. Bring individuals face coverings for all in your party to wear when in areas accessible to the public. Signing up for travel protection services is a good idea. A membership will give you access to medical evacuation should you need it.
When you do begin too gravel out of state, keep in mind that each state has its own rules, regulations and safety requirements in place. Stay abreast of any changes that come about. Check them regularly, so that you stay ahead of the game and avoid impending problems.
Americans love the outdoors and the pandemic has clearly demonstrated that fact. Participation is fishing alone has skyrocketed. Camping is now following suit. Plan ahead, prepare yourself and safely enjoy the great outdoors this summer.
For information on Missouri State Parks, check mostateparks.com. For information about the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, check, https://www.nps.gov/ozar/index.htm.
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