When we made our plans for 2020, focusing on the challenges that lay before us, no one could have predicted that the greatest challenge of all would be operating in the midst of a once-in-a-century global pandemic. Covid-19 spread across the world and reached into our communities in a way many, if not most, of us had never experienced.
As we collected information for this issue of Pathways, we asked for a glimpse into how Covid-19 affected trail organizations, as well as their reactions to the pandemic.
Some trail partners, unfortunately, saw a near total shutdown of their organizations and activities. Many trail visitor centers around the U.S. closed due to Covid-19. While these closures affected all staff and trail users, it impacted different trails in different ways. For instance, it was particularly heartbreaking for many people along Selma to Montgomery NHT—unable to convene along trail assets created to commemorate the historic march—as they mourned the painful loss of Congressman John Lewis.
Activities and strategies paused as projects, carefully planned and funded, became postponed with a promise to revisit in 2021. Many volunteers ready to serve were forced to await a time when it was safe to again resume their work. Events were unable to move forward as initially conceived. Some were postponed, others cancelled. Some, thanks to technology many of us hadn’t even considered prior to the pandemic, found new venues in virtual environments.
The reality of a public health crisis in which we’re asked to remain at home is that it makes so many of us yearn for the outdoors. Many of our partners found their trails being used at record numbers.
Trail organization and partners noted the public health restrictions, due to the pandemic, resulted in park visitors searching for more ways to explore the outdoors. They quickly responded, providing creative ways to safely enable people to enjoy trails. For example, National Park Service shared that sites in the Southern Campaign of the American Revolution Parks Group worked together to ensure visitor safety while allowing them a chance to socially distance and explore. Many trails offered additional safety guidelines or training for hikers. Several trails introducing popular, virtual hike apps that converts one’s daily walk into approximate steps taken on a trail so that over time, they may pass landmarks or even complete a virtual thru-hike.
Often, in the face of overwhelming challenges we find ourselves worried that we didn’t react appropriately. Looking at all of these responses, however, one thing became clear. No matter the size of our organizations or the length of our trails, in the face of an unprecedented worldwide pandemic, we all did the exact same thing:
We did our best.
And the entire National Trails community is better for it.
Partnership for the National Trails System
Click the following links for Covid-19 submissions from our Trail Organization Members: Covid Comments