Public Health & Recreation

People Seek Solace from Coronavirus in Great Outdoors


As the coronavirus pandemic closes gyms and isolates people, the region’s hiking trails, such as Weetamoo Woods in Tiverton, R.I., are getting a workout. (ecoRI News)

WRENTHAM, Mass. — The local wildlife hosted an opera last Saturday as we scaled “Joe’s Rock.”

As my boyfriend and his friend climbed the rock face — our local climbing gym was closed because of the coronavirus — I traipsed through the underbrush to get a closer listen to the wildlife singing their songs, and to take my mind off the pandemic that is gripping world.

We’re not the only ones turning to nature and the outdoors for a respite from the news.

“I walk a lot and I’ve noticed the places I walk have a lot more people and the parking lots are full,” said Rupert Friday, executive director of the Rhode Island Land Trust Council. “And I was talking to our board president, Barbara Rich, and she said all the places she normally walks, she drives by the parking lots and they are totally full, and I heard the same thing from a former board member who lives in Little Compton who said the places she normally walks are so busy that she is going to new places that are less well known.”

It’s not really a surprise. Physical distancing and working from home, along with shuttered gathering spaces such as libraries, cafés, movie theaters, and restaurants, create loneliness and cabin fever. When there’s a virtual lockdown, the great outdoors beckons.

That’s a good thing, too. According to a 2011 study by Japanese researchers, participants who spent more time in natural settings exhibited lower levels of stress hormones than those in the urban control group.

For Margie Butler, a Providence resident, going outside has been a huge source of relief and calm during these troubled times.

“I’ve been walking morning and evening now for well over a week during our COVID-19 times,” the resident of the Fox Point neighborhood said. “I admit to being a walker even in normal times, but something feels different now. When all else in our lives is becoming scarce and cumbersome — provisions, going into stores, travel, seeing family in person, and work — stepping outside for a walk is still available for us. It’s both a privilege and a responsibility.”

Butler noted that physical distancing has still applied to her experience outside, as if walking everyone is zorbing along the beaten path rather than walking it.

“As I walk, I am keeping distance, unfortunately not going into any stores, and being very highly aware,” she said. “My COVID-19 day walks are this odd mix of joyful and somber. I greet each person I see with a wave or a hello. I have only run into one pal during a walk and we hung out on a fence six feet from each other and talked for a long time.”

The Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council has advised users of parks and paths to maintain distance and not to congregate.

“While nature, fresh air, and sunshine can be a tremendous help during trying times, we are all currently strongly encouraged to practice social distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19. This guidance applies when we enjoy the Greenway and other public spaces. If you arrive somewhere like the Greenway, and there are large crowds, turn around and come back another time,” the Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council suggested in a recent email.

But, as Friday noted, for many people the solitude of taking a walk or going for a hike is the best part.

“We did some focus groups around our new RI Walks website, and I expected people to want to have organized walks and join a group, but we had more people say that they prefer to go out for solitude, to enjoy the peace and quiet,” Friday said.

He also noted that this recent explosion in outdoor activity could lead to a greater appreciation for enjoying the trails, hikes, and outdoors beyond this crisis.

“I think when people get out there and see how much better they feel or see how nice it is and how it helps them relax, it will catch on, and they will remember that it’s something that makes them feel better,” he said.

For more information about local outdoor recreation opportunities, visit these websites ExploreRI, Buzzards Bay Coalition, and the Hiking Project.

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  1. With spring oncoming even more reason to enjoy riding at the speed of a bicycle where "social distance" is relatively easy to maintain. For info on biking in RI including links to detailed info on all of our bike paths RIDOT has a good BikeRI web site at Enjoy!

  2. During the Spanish Flu pandemic, patients were moved outdoors and had a higher survival rate than patients in the hospital. Fresh air and vitamin D!

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