Since COVID-19 hit, trails and other open spaces have seen significant spikes in visitors as more people itch to get out of the house and head to the hills. It's great to see people enjoying our beautiful, natural outdoors! Unfortunately, the extra traffic is taking a heavy toll on our trails — in Colorado and elsewhere.
We've seen trampling off-trail, which harms plant and animal habitat; garbage and dog waste; graffiti on rock faces and trail signs; and illegal parking. The damage could take years to repair; some damage is permanent. Also, many people are not following social distancing guidelines. Some open spaces are at risk of shutting down.
In Colorado, we wanted to spread awareness about this issue so that our open spaces stay open and continue to be enjoyed by all. So we created the #KeepItInMind campaign. It urges people to "keep a few things in mind" as they head outside, and help protect open spaces and each other. For example, it reminds people to stay on marked trails — walking through mud if necessary — and shows pictures of dead vegetation in places where people walked off the authorized path. It shares the principles of Leave No Trace, and provides links to resources to help recreationists find less-populated trails and campgrounds to visit. And it reminds people that the pandemic isn't over — we still need to wear masks, stay six feet apart and go out only in small groups.
Because so many trail users right now are newer users who may not be accustomed to trail norms, we're hoping to reach folks with encouraging messages that steer them in the right direction and promote good outdoor etiquette. Our network of partners is helping us reach larger audiences in our state — such as Great Outdoors Colorado, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and of course, our land trusts and open space agencies charged with conserving and stewarding these outdoor places. If your local land trusts are facing similar challenges, perhaps a similar campaign can move things in the right direction.