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In Times Like These; Go Outdoors & Go Solo

Posted on March 20th, 2020

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Joining other park systems, the Michigan DNR just announced that entry fees for state parks and trails will be suspended during the coronavirus pandemic. And to be totally safe from getting CODIV-19 the DNR recommended going solo. In the latest MichiganTrailMaps.com Trail Talk blog, Jim DuFresne agrees and says his most memorable outdoor adventures was when he was alone.

Need to trail to escape the pressure of the pandemic? The MichiganTrailMaps.com web site have more than 300 from around the state with downloadable maps and mile-by-mile descriptions. We also have a growing number of trail maps that have been georeferenced. Our newest is the Baldy Trail system, part of the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy’s Arcadia Dunes preserve.

By Jim DuFresne

The Michigan DNR announced yesterday that entry fees would be waived at state parks and recreation areas, state game and wildlife areas, state forests, trails and pathways.

Jim DuFresne

“For the duration of the COVID-19 situation, we’re waiving the need for the Recreation Passport for entry at state parks and other destinations.”

Seriously, what else could they do? There is nobody in the contact booth to see if you have a “P” on your license plate or not.

What I found more amazing in the press release was the DNR encouraging people to head outdoors during this pandemic with the slogan “Enjoy getting outside, but be ‘COVID-19 smart, safe and solo.”


That’s new. Usually, the message is to buddy up before heading down that path or river, particularly if it’s a multi-day trip. That was re-enforced last fall with that dreadful incident in Big Island Lake Wilderness when a solo canoeist severely cut his leg and then couldn’t stop the bleeding with a tourniquet.  He had no way of getting help or getting out and died at his campsite.

On the other hand, I’ve been going solo most of my life, long before there were cell phones. It was the nature of writing outdoor guidebooks.

Most of the time, whether it was New Zealand or Isle Royale National Park, I would find myself alone for a few days before I’d meet somebody out on the trail or at the next backcountry campsite.

A solo backpacker heading to Feldtmann Lake on Isle Royale National Park.

But I once took a six-week solo paddle in Glacier Bay National Park and in the middle of that journey didn’t see anybody for 12 days. For somebody like me who thrives on wilderness solitude, it was an incredible experience. For 12 days, the only sign of humanity was an occasional floatplane overhead or a cruise ship I spotted more than a mile away; for 12 days, the only voice I heard was when I sang to myself.

It was 12 days of encountering a half dozen humpback whales, hundreds of seals, 1,000-pound brown bears that stood seven feet tall but not another person. It was one man’s unexpected sabbatical from civilization, a time when you throw away the watch and moved with the tides, reacquaint yourself with nature, rediscover who you are.

Going solo means you have to take precautions and know you’re physical abilities. It means carrying what you need for a day in the woods, whether it’s a mile-long nature trail or the 20-mile loop that is the Jordan Valley Pathway, knowing at this time of year you’re going to see few other people if any out there.

But it’s healthy for you. It’s being by yourself in your own thoughts and observations, moving at your own pace and returning to the trailhead mentally cleansed and physically refreshed.

I agree with the DNR; in these times, when social distancing is being mandated, head outdoors and go solo.

Be safe and do so with these tips from the National Recreation and Park Association:

  • Don’t go out on the trails if you have symptoms. Just don’t.
  • Symptom free? Follow CDC’s guidance on personal hygiene before heading to trails — wash hands, carry hand sanitizer. If you need to sneeze or cough, cover your mouth and nose with an elbow or tissue/cloth.
  • If you encounter others on the trail, observe CDC’s minimum recommended social distancing of six feet whether you’re walking, biking or hiking.
  • Warn other trail users of your presence so you can pass them while maintaining minimum recommended distances. Or step off trails to allow others to pass you.
  • At most parks, public restrooms will be closed during the COVID-19 pandemic — be prepared before you leave and time outings so that you are not dependent on public restrooms.
  • Bring your own water or drinks
  • Bring a suitable trash bag. Leave no trash, be sure to pack out everything to protect everyone.


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