Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many traditional outdoor events and volunteer opportunities have been canceled and many programs and facilities are facing new limitations. While organized recreation has changed, there are other ways to remain active outdoors in the La Crosse region during the summer.
In response to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for safe use of public outdoor spaces, many summer activities have been canceled or postponed. Six feet of social distancing and the use of cloth face coverings are recommended when engaging in outdoor activities. The CDC suggests sick individuals stay home and crowded parks be avoided completely. Following these guidelines necessitates reduced group sizes and significant alterations to typical summer programming in the La Crosse area.
Parks and rec coordinator for the La Crosse Department of Parks, Recreation & Forestry Leah Burns said that city officials are working their best to keep La Crosse safe during outdoor activities in the summer. “We’re really trying to get creative and find alternative ways to engage with our community,” said Burns. “Staff have been working diligently to come up with some cost-effective options to roll out some programs that we have done in the past but will be done differently now.”
The La Crosse Department of Parks, Recreation & Forestry has made the decision to keep pools closed for the season. Burns said this decision may be why the city is seeing an increase in beach attendance this summer. “We are seeing an overall higher use of the beaches right now,” said Burns. “So a lot of education right now to encourage people to bring the proper equipment when they are coming to the beach.”
The CDC recommends that beach staff and beach visitors stay at least 6 feet away from people they don’t live with and do not share food, equipment, toys, or supplies with people they don’t live with to minimize the risk of spread.
Additional recreation options like kayaking and canoeing have become available with the opening of the Pettibone Equipment Rental facility. Updates about new programming, adjusted facility hours, and current closure lists can be found on the La Crosse city website and social media pages.
Local outdoor and environmental organizations have also implemented changes due to COVID-19. The Outdoor Recreation Alliance (ORA), has seen an increase in trail use this spring. ORA board member Chris Stindt said, “The value of the trails has always been high, but I would say it’s been higher over the course of COVID.”
Stindt said the influx of new trail users has created a few challenges for ORA. Trail etiquette, he said, is often composed of unwritten rules, and because the trails have many access points, sharing these rules with the community has been a challenge. “People maybe aren’t aware of the rules, but we always want everyone to feel comfortable and welcome and be able to take advantage of the spaces that we have,” said Stindt.
According to Stindt, trail etiquette rules help protect trails and the surrounding environment from damage throughout the season. He suggests community members stay off of trails after recent rains and avoid making their own trails by sticking to the primary routes.
Any questions about trail use, trail etiquette, and upcoming projects can be answered by reaching out to the ORA Facebook page and website.
Many outdoor and environmental organizations, including ORA, have traditionally used the summer as their primary work and education season. President of the Friends of the Marsh board Chuck Lee said, “This was our busy season in terms of volunteer outings, especially volunteer work outing in the marsh. We have quite a bit of responsibility for trail maintenance in the marsh. In the second half of the summer, we do a lot of invasives work of getting rid of invasive plants. We have not been able to do [those events].”
Educational outreach events held by the Friends of the Marsh have been halted this summer. Lee said typical education events such as “Enviro Wednesdays” in Myrick Park and group marsh walks have been canceled, for the time being. He said it is important to follow the guidelines and directives from the La Crosse County health department, the state of Wisconsin, and the CDC.
Burns offered advice for the community regarding the heightened emotions surrounding this pandemic. “Be mindful and respectful that everybody is going through something different and no person’s situation is the same right now. Be respectful that there may be heightened sensitivity,” said Burns. While engaging in outdoor activities, she said, also be mindful of social distancing efforts.
While options for outdoor recreation have reduced because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Burns maintains a positive outlook. The city is working towards a return to a “different kind of normal” for the community said Burns. “While things are canceled right now, remain hopeful,” she said.