COVID-19 inspires PLHC’s ‘Public Landemic’ Project

What is a Public Landemic? Efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 have radically changed recreation and leisure landscape in Colorado. The pandemic caused ski resorts to close at the height of height of spring ski season. Climbing gyms and fitness centers closed their doors. Closures of businesses including breweries, bars, and restaurants further limited recreation options. In response, Colorado locals have taken to their local trails, natural areas, parks, and paths in record numbers.

During the public landemic, a hiker captures a view from the top of a vista in Fort Collins, rocky hills give way to the plains below.
State and local public lands have remained open to visitation during the pandemic. In order to maintain social distance on popular local trails, land managers are encouraging visitors to hike and exercise during off-peak days and hours. Here, an early hiker captured a view of a nearly-deserted Prospect Road on a recent Sunday morning.

Sheltering in Place, Colorado-style

On Wednesday March 25th, Colorado governor, Jared Polis, issued a shelter in place order that clamped down on activities outside the home. Coloradoans could leave home only for necessary tasks, including medical care and purchasing food. The order was also reflective of Colorado’s outdoor identity, and explicitly included exercise among “essential” reasons to leave the house. Public lands have always been a vitally important part of Fort Collins’ recreation landscape, but the limitation in other options has led to a surge in recreational public lands uses of all kinds.

Visitation on public lands creates a ‘Public Landemic’

The benefits of getting outside for stress reduction and physical health are well acknowledged. The ability to access the outdoors is vital to bolster morale and helps our community adjust to necessary, but difficult, restrictions on civic and social life. However, heavy public lands use during a pandemic also puts pressure on the land and the people who care for it. Trails and trailheads don’t always offer the space to properly socially distance. Other public lands users throughout Colorado have noted similar trends.

The PLHC has a vested interest in public lands of all kinds, as well as in the people who use and care for them. This moment is a historic and extraordinary crisis in public health. The accompanying surge in outdoor recreation is a prime example of “history in the making” for public lands. Local land managers have noted that trail counters at popular Fort Collins natural areas like Reservoir Ridge, Bobcat Ridge, and Maxwell Natural area have recorded 40-50% more visitation than usual.

Collecting public lands stories

With that in mind, we want to hear from you if you’ve found yourself on local, county, state, or federally-managed public lands since March 16th. What prompted you to check out an open space, natural area, state park, or tract of federal land? What did you see? How did it make you feel? Share your story however you’d like at the link here. Answer some or all of the questions, or even skip to the end and share some thoughts at the end. To share your experiences visually, tag your photo with #PLHCPublicLandemicProject on Instagram or Facebook, or check out the SOURCE coverage of this project.

The PLHC encourages all public lands users to be considerate of one another during this difficult time. As you continue to find joy and connection on public lands, we urge land users to maintain social distance, be vigilant about washing or sanitizing their hands, and observe all limitations on and closures of public land. We’re all in this together as public land users and owners.

Please note that your responses will be public, and the PLHC may share your responses with other entities interested in the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects on public lands use. Identifying information will not be collected or shared, but we encourage you to be respectful in your responses anyway.

We appreciate your participation in the Public Landemic Project, and we’re looking forward to hearing your stories.