COLUMBUS — In response to the developing public health situation with COVID-19 and the Ohio Department of Health’s (ODH) guidance, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) has closed Hocking Hills State Park and all of its trails.
“In order to protect the health and safety of our visitors, we are temporarily closing Hocking Hills State Park,” said ODNR Director Mary Mertz. “This was a difficult decision, however, this unique trail system is not designed to allow for adequate social distancing without potential risks.”
The challenging terrain of a narrow trail system, where stepping off the trail is strictly prohibited, makes keeping six feet of distance between visitors nearly impossible. In some areas, stepping off the trail may result in injury. Limited park staffing could impact response time as well as place undue pressure on local emergency personnel should falls or accidents occur.
At this time, Hocking Hills State Park is the only full park closure in Ohio’s state park system. The Hocking Hills closure includes Ash Cave, Cantwell Cliffs, Cedar Falls, Old Man’s Cave, Rock House and Whispering Cave. Also included in the closure is Conkle’s Hollow State Nature Preserve.
The state remains under a stay-at-home order so Ohioans should stay home, or close to it, as much as possible. If people choose to venture outdoors, they are advised to use common sense and adhere to the following guidance from the National Recreation and Park Association for staying safe:
• Follow CDC’s guidance on personal hygiene prior to heading to trails — wash hands, carry hand sanitizer, do not use trails if you have symptoms, cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, etc.
• Observe at all times CDC’s minimum recommended social distancing of six feet from other people. Practice it and know what it looks like. Keep it as you walk, bike or hike.
• Warn other trail users of your presence and as you pass to allow proper distance and step off trails to allow others to pass, keeping minimum recommended distances at all times. Signal your presence with your voice, bell or horn.
• Note that trail users may find public restrooms closed — be prepared before you leave and time outings so that you are not dependent on public restrooms.
• Bring water or drinks — public drinking fountains may be disabled and should not be used, even if operable. It is important that hikers on state forest backpack trails take their own water or filtration system because backpack trail water tanks will not be refilled at this time.
• Bring a suitable trash bag. Leave no trash, take everything out to protect workers.
For more information on COVID-19 and the ODH’s recommendations on prevention and preparation, visit coronavirus.ohio.gov.
ODNR and the Ohio Parks and Recreation Association (OPRA) are reminding Ohioans that spending time outdoors is a great way to stay active and healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s important that all guidelines from state and local health officials, such as social distancing and practicing good hygiene, are still followed.
“Much has changed in the past few weeks,” Mertz said. “What hasn’t changed is the natural beauty of Ohio and the many ways that our residents can enjoy that beauty in state, regional and local parks.”
Although many indoor facilities are closed and programs have been cancelled, Ohio State Parks remain open, as are most Ohio Metroparks and community parks. Ohioans can still get outside and explore, preferably solo or in small groups per the CDC’s recommendation.
“We really believe that getting outside can be beneficial for people of all ages—maybe now more than ever,” said OPRA Director Woody Woodward. “Keeping parks open provides healthy recreation options for people during this difficult time.”
Research supports the positive impact that getting outdoors can have on mental health, particularly during strenuous life events. Reconnecting with nature can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression.
Although certain ODNR facilities such as visitor centers, lodges, and nature centers are temporarily closed, other properties including state parks, nature preserves, wildlife areas, and state forests are still open.
Established in 1934, Ohio Parks and Recreation Association is a statewide non-profit organization representing more than 2,000 parks and recreation professionals and citizen board members from municipal, county and state parks throughout Ohio.
Information for this story was provided by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.