It’s no secret that the pandemic changed life drastically for everyone. People, of course, have been dramatically impacted, but one ripple effect of the past year is a toll on local wildlife and the public lands they need to thrive and survive. Once people could go places, they chose the outdoors, where social distancing was easier. U.S. Forest Service Public Affairs Officer Kassidy Kern said the pandemic has brought “absolutely unprecedented numbers” of visitors to public lands in Central Oregon, and with them, unfortunately, a host of problems.
“We are currently cleaning up a lot of garbage from people, repairing trails and roads that have deep ruts or trail braiding, as well as assessing soil compaction and the degradation of wildlife habitat from off-roading and parking outside of designated areas,” Kern said.
Bend residents have reported increased amounts of litter in public areas and the roads that lead to them, like China Hat and the Cascade Lakes Highway. Even snow areas such as Wanoga Sno-Park and Mt. Bachelor have had issues with litter.
The tourism pros at Travel Oregon had already noticed an uptick in impacts to our wild lands prior the pandemic. They launched the “Take Care Out There” campaign in 2019, aiming to educate Oregonians and tourists alike in how to properly enjoy and maintain Oregon’s natural beauty. Now more than ever, everyone who enjoys visiting the outdoors needs to take measures to protect it. “We support and encourage people to make these memories with friends and family, but also remind visitors that recreating comes with a responsibility to take care of these special places,” Kern said.
Here are a few helpful tips to keep in mind as you explore this summer, to keep our public lands healthy and accessible for generations to come.
Do some research on current guidelines and local regulations and try to plan a trip that avoids busy crowds. Have a backup plan in case a destination is closed or at capacity and try to limit groups to ten people. Be sure to dress appropriately for the weather and pack essentials. Don’t forget to bring some cash for the occasional parking fee at state parks and check road conditions before heading out.
When everyone is mindful of their surroundings, it makes exploring public lands and state parks all the more enjoyable. Avoid crowds and don’t linger in parking lots or points of interest for too long. Know your limits and don’t do anything that puts you or others in danger. Follow posted signs, stay on the trails and be sure to wear face coverings when crossing paths with other visitors. Pack out everything that was packed in, including trash such as disposable face coverings and drink containers. When nature calls for both people and pets, be respectful and have a plan to leave no trace.
Take some time to learn about the diverse landscapes of Central Oregon and the communities that call them home. Wherever you go, be sure to share a smile and some kind words with the people you encounter on the trail and in town. During COVID-19, be patient and understanding with others as recent events have impacted many people’s well-being.
Lastly, always remember to show your appreciation. Say “thank you” to those you meet along the way. Try to eat, drink, shop and stay locally to ensure that the communities near Central Oregon’s public lands thrive into the future.