So how does a club safely hold a walking event during this pandemic? North Star Trail Travelers (NSTT), a Minnesota club emphasizing walks in Minnesota state parks, held two events on July 18 and 19. Forestville/Mystery Cave and Lake Louise State Parks are in the hilly southeast corner of Minnesota about 50 kilometers south of Rochester. Both parks offer miles of trails through hardwood forests and open meadows dotted with lakes, rivers and trout streams.
NSTT has a partnership with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) which allows us to utilize park facilities and underscores a close working relationship with the park staffs. As with all our events, NSTT had been planning this for more than a year (meeting with staff, identifying and measuring trails, etc.); however, the arrival of the pandemic caused us to adjust our approach. Most of the 72 Minnesota state parks are open for visiting and camping; however, registrations and purchases are currently made through “ticket windows,” and groups of over 25 congregants are prohibited.
We sent out a questionnaire to our base asking if they would come to an event if we incorporated safety measures recommended by health experts and the DNR. Positive responses were encouraging, so we proceeded with our plans, but circulated and enacted the following precautions:
- Basic recommendations (frequent hand washing, sanitizing everything, feeling sick – stay home, etc.)
- Registration – we sent out registration forms to be printed, filled in and returned with checks, which could include donations for our food offerings and park donation. For those registering onsite, we required face masks, physical distancing and asked that each bring their own pen. We carefully sanitized our hands before and after stamping achievement books.
- Picnic lunch – one person, masked and gloved, put the hot dog or brat and wrapped bun on a plate, along with the selected choice of chips, pop and cookies. Tables were appropriately spaced, frequently sanitized, and walkers encouraged to bring their own lawn chairs. Bottles of hand sanitizer were placed throughout the registration and picnic area.
- Placards encouraging mask wearing and all the other recommendations were strategically located.
As the weather was almost perfect, we were able to hold both events, including registration and lunch, outdoors. The walking routes (as always) had been marked with ribbons and arrows in advance, so walkers could travel on their own and easily practice social distancing. Although most of us do not wear masks while actually walking, everyone is very respectful in maintaining significant separation when passing and often even steps aside to allow faster walkers to move past.
The natural ultraviolet radiation from sunlight, combined with air currents and the fact that we are constantly moving, makes outdoor walking events quite safe, according to the health experts. With people constantly coming and going throughout the day, there were never more than about 20 in the registration/lunch area at any one time.
We had laid out two 5-kilometer loops in each park, with attention to creating an enjoyable experience highlighting the beauty of the environment in a quiet, peaceful setting. With registration of 40 walkers at each event, we considered the weekend a success and plan two more events yet this year.