by Johanna Rivera
The Humboldt County Department of Public Health has recognized the importance of outdoor recreation as an essential activity during the shelter in place order. People have been encouraged to walk, bike and run while wearing facial coverings and remaining 6 feet away from others not living in the same household.
During these times when some of us are experiencing an increase in stress, it is crucial we create time to nurture our mental and physical health. There is a plethora of research that describes how getting outdoors and in tune with nature benefits our wellbeing.
Physically, the outdoors is a natural gym, a space to exercise while enjoying some immune boosting vitamin D from the sun! Mentally, being outdoors gifts us moments of living in the present, becoming mindful as we observe and engage with the sounds, sights and sensations of nature. This mindful connection helps reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and increases our creativity and problem-solving abilities. Bird watchers know the sense of self-confidence they feel when they recognize and identify bird species!
¡Pero esperen! Before anyone takes a break from their home, let’s go over ethical ways to enjoy the outdoors safely during these times of shelter in place:
–Check local tribal updates: Please respect the current tribal orders, people and land! The Yurok Tribe implemented closure on tribal lands, parks, preserves, beaches and boat launches, which includes no overnight camping to non-residents in hopes of eliminating exposure of COVID-19 to tribal members.
–Prepare before leaving your home: Look up updates on closures to the place you wish to visit. California State Parks have currently closed their parking lots. We can still access trails by foot or bicycle. Pack facial coverings, water, snacks and appropriate clothing for the weather in a small backpack. This backpack can then be used to carry your trash home, since park visitor centers and bathrooms are closed. Therefore, use the restroom before you leave the house. Also, try not to visit certain places during peak hours to avoid crowding.
–Be respectful of others: If you are sick, please do not leave your home. Practice physical distancing and cover your face as needed. Stay local if possible (we’ll touch base on this later…).
–Read signs: Many parking lots and trail heads have posted COVID-19 guidelines. Please read signs before enjoying the space.
–While outdoors: “Abre tus ojos, mira hacia arriba, disfruta las cosas buenas que tiene la vida.” This great advice comes from Colombian cumbia band ‘La Sonora Dinamita’
I would like to note that I am writing this article as a Latino Outdoors Outings Leader based in the rural Humboldt County of Northern California where we have plenty of access to nearby natural space. Latino Outdoors is a national non-profit organization, with chapters in various states and cities. Latino Outdoors was created to support Latinx familias in being represented in the outdoors and guiding the next generation of environmental leaders. Jose Gonzalez founded Latino Outdoors partly to address the equity issue that many people can not access natural spaces, especially people of color.
COVID-19 is surfacing this inequity now more than ever, more so for folks who live in urban areas. Sometimes, people do not have the privilege of “staying local” when visiting some outdoor places. This is a public health issue since spending time in nature is beneficial, therapeutic and healing to our mental and physical wellbeing. In an effort to overcome this inequity while sheltering in place, it’s time to expand the definition of the “outdoors”. Nature is not only national and state parks, preserves, beaches and trails. If we slow down to observe the birds right outside our window, we will see it is currently nesting season and our little friends out there are busy flying back and forth picking yummy worms and bugs to feed their nestlings! How about downloading the iNaturalist app and identifying some of the creatures we see in our yards?
Currently, all Latino Outdoors events have been canceled nationally and we have started experimenting with online programming. Locally, we have used our social media platforms to inform familias of nature-based citizen science programs that can be done right outside their home or in a neighborhood park, acknowledging some familias do not have yards. To keep our followers engaged in the outdoors, we have also asked them to post photographs of local wildflowers they see during their daily neighborhood stress relief walks. We have many ideas in the works coming soon, such as live streaming of reading kids nature books and virtual tours of the redwood forest ecosystem. Stay connected online for updates on our programming, find us on Facebook as Latino Outdoors Humboldt, Instagram (lohumboldt) and our national website www.latinooutdoors.org.
You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.