What are the Ethics of Outdoor Recreation While We’re Sheltering in Place?

Across the country, and the world, for that matter, outdoor spaces are closing. Beach parking lots in Northern California are closed, and in Southern California they’re ticketing surfers. State parks and campgrounds closed nationwide. Many national parks closed, with a big push to close all of them among many in the outdoor community. Gateway communities have essentially declared their businesses and trails locals only to prevent travelers from distant areas infecting their small communities.

The moment the Bay Area directed residents to shelter-in-place and closed non-essential businesses, the first community in the country to do so, people flocked to local trails in such huge numbers, by the following weekend, trailheads and trail parking lots were fenced off.

Self-policing among many in the outdoor community has seen us reminding each other to avoid putting others at risk by congregating in the outdoors, and by putting ourselves at risk by engaging in backcountry activities that may see us injured and consuming medical resources best preserved for the fight against COVID-19.

There’s been much hand-wringing in our outdoor community about not only what is safe, but what is ethical. Is it fine to hike local trails while social distancing? Is careful mountain biking an unnecessary risk? Is there such a thing as careful mountain biking? If public campgrounds are closed, what about camping on private land? While it seems clear that it’s an act of selfishness to flaunt beach closures to surf early season south swells, many in the surf community justify it as a harmless bit of rebellion.

We’ve asked before about how COVID-19 has affected your adventure life, but now we’re wondering if you’re getting outside at all, and if so, how.


As an incentive for conversation, we’re giving away a copy of Adventure Journal to one commenter chosen at random. You can choose any issue we have in stock, and if you’re already a subscriber we can extend your sub by an issue, send you an issue you don’t have, or give one to a friend. Just include your email when you post your comment so we can get in touch.

Photo: Jeremy Bishop



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