PHILADELPHIA, PA — Community pools are closed for the season, vacations are transforming into staycations, and the region’s reopening plans are moving along cautiously. It’s safe to say that summer looks a bit different as the response to the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
As individuals around the region take stock of their summer plans, many are deciding that staying local is the best option and that getting outdoors and on the region’s trails remain key to both physical and mental wellness as well as recreation.
“There’s no doubt that people have taken to the trails in larger numbers since the outbreak began,” said Sarah Clark Stuart, chair of the Circuit Trails Coalition, which is working to build a network of more than 800 miles of connected multi-use trails across nine counties in southeastern Pennsylvania and south New Jersey. Currently more than 330 miles of Circuit Trails are complete.
“Since March, we’ve seen usage numbers rising more than 100% on some trail segments as people get out and discover new places to stay active and find new or renewed interest in activities they can enjoy by themselves or with family. What’s great about the Circuit Trails is that so many connect people with open park space and waterways, so not only can folks walk, bike, and run on the trails, but they can also use the trails to get to a spot where they can spread out and fish or practice yoga or go birding or make art or picnic and play games with their kids,” added Stuart.
National data from Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, a member of the Circuit Trails Coalition, reports that across the country trail use is surging to levels more than 200% higher than the same period last year. Nearly half of people (46%) indicated that having access to open spaces has reduced their stress levels during the pandemic and more than half (52%) are exercising outdoors in their immediate neighborhoods and on local trails.
According to the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC), a member of the Circuit Trails Coalition that maintains 16 permanent counters on Circuit trails, activity across the region has generally been higher throughout the pandemic, March through June, than the year before.
Monthly Trail Counter Data
In March, DVRPC counters tracked increases of 30% to 107% over the same period last year. April numbers showed spikes on what have typically been more lightly used trails, including the D&L at Washington Crossing in Bucks County (up 118%) and the US 202 Parkway in Montgomery and Bucks counties (up 138%).
In May, while stay-at-home orders for Pennsylvania and some parts of New Jersey continued through Memorial Day Weekend, combined data from the Schuylkill Banks, Chester Valley Trail, Washington Crossing, Port Richmond and Wissahickon counters show usage up 9% over the three days from 2019 to 2020, with the largest increase occurring on Sunday, up 52% over 2019.
Data from June continues to show year-over-year increases in trail activity especially on suburban trails like the Chester Valley Trail, which saw a 53% increase from June 2019. To review additional counter data, please visit www.dvrpc.org.
Share the Trail
As the numbers indicate, more people are exploring the Circuit Trails, and as summer kicks into high gear, that trend is expected to continue. “It’s important that people use the trails safely and responsibly,” said Stuart. “It’s up to all of us to do our part to help keep each other healthy and keep our shared public spaces like parks and trails open and accessible,” she said.
Stuart urges that trail users share space on the trails, recreate responsibly, and follow these trail etiquette tips:
- Keep your distance with at least 6 feet between you and other trail visitors.
- When walking, running, and biking, stay to the right, and pass on the left.
- If you’re standing still, move off the trail if you can to make room for others to pass.
- Avoid playgrounds or other crowded gathering spaces.
- Carry your mask, hand sanitizer, and water with you, and don’t touch your face.
- Please stay home if you are not feeling well or have any symptoms of illness.
There are also ways to enjoy the Circuit Trails virtually if temperatures get too hot on some summer days or if individuals prefer staying at home due to the virus. Online trail events have included virtual runs, virtual summer camps, Facebook Live-ing with trail naturalists, and finding art on the trails. Check the Circuit Trails event page for updates.
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