‘I Feel Like Hiking Is A Safe Option’ — Utah’s Hills Are Alive With Hikers, Most Keeping Their Distance

Aline Devaud is a mental health therapist. On Friday, she went to the Jacks Peak Trailhead on Salt Lake City’s east bench, and put one foot in front of the other.

“I won’t be any good if I don’t care for myself,” said Devaud, who has been speaking to clients over the computer to protect herself and others from the coronavirus.

As the global battle against COVID-19 deepens, some Utahns have used the state’s great outdoors as an alternative to isolating at home. Hiking and biking trails and fishing spots can allow for some fresh air without getting closer than 6 feet to others.

“We got there, and we told our kids, ‘Don’t touch anything man-made,’” said Heather Clark, who went hiking with her husband and their three children Monday.

The Clark children are home while Orem schools are closed. The family hiked a loop in Provo Canyon. Clark said they saw about a dozen other hikers and bicyclists.

Whenever strangers passed one another or met on the trail, she said, they all stepped aside far enough to keep their distance. The hike, Clark said, was especially good for her 8-year-old son, who has lots of energy and had wanted to go to a public playground.

The family had planned to hike every day of this self-isolation, but one member caught a cold and the Clarks haven’t returned to the trail since Monday.

“If they ask us to remain in our home except for emergencies, then we will not be hiking,” Clark said. “But as long as we are allowed out, I feel like hiking is a safe option.”

Clark’s 15-year-old daughter, Elinor Clark, said she and her siblings have been playing online board games with their cousins in Seattle. Her only other, safe outdoor options are walking around the neighborhood or riding bikes.

“We’re all kind of claustrophobic,” the Orem High School sophomore said. “All families, they fight, they bicker, they get on each other’s nerves, and [the hike] was a nice change of pace. To get out in nature was really nice.”

Scott Andersen normally works from his Orem home when he isn’t traveling for business. His employer, an online education company, has halted travel.

“It kind of feels like the walls are caving in,” the 55-year-old Andersen said. “For me, I think better, I feel better, and I am better out in the wide open.”

Last Sunday (March 15), Andersen drove to Utah Lake and spent about three hours there taking photographs of the sunset. Then, on Friday, he arose about 5:30 a.m. and decided to drive. Steering through snow flurries, Andersen stopped at a spot in Provo Canyon and wrote a blog post about the coronavirus.

Ski resorts were open for the first few days of the state’s mass social distancing. They have since closed.

National parks and most state parks have remained open, but campgrounds and many other amenities have either been closed or severely limited. Moab, gateway to Arches and Canyonlands national parks, has asked visitors to stay away. Getaways like Zion National Park can still draw crowds not conducive to the advice public health workers have given to avoid large gatherings.

Bill King, whose family runs Kings’ Rainbow Gardens gift shop and restaurant, said as many as 400 hikers clogged the Ogden Canyon trailhead to the Bonneville Shoreline Trail on Saturday, spilling into the parking lot of the business.

King said he saw people hiking in groups of 10, 20 and 30.

“All of these hikers and bikers,” King wrote in an email, “seemed to be oblivious to the fact that people were dying from the coronavirus and that they needed to be more careful.”

The outdoors have long been touted as a way to improve mental health. San Francisco’s recent shelter-in-place order has exemptions for running, walking or hiking outdoors — provided the participants do not join large groups and maintain social distancing.

Craig Janes, director of the school of public health at the University of Waterloo, told Canada’s Global News that going outside during the pandemic is fine.

“As long as you’re not in close contact with other people, [walking] is great,” Janes said. “You’re going to exercise, you’re going to feel better.”

Chris Millar is an engineering manager for Adobe who has been working from his Salt Lake City home. On Friday, he decided his 1-year-old bernedoodle, Zooey, had too much quarantine. The 39-year-old Millar thought a walk along the Bonneville Shoreline Trail would be therapeutic. For both of them.

“I said, ‘You know what. It’s Friday. No meetings from the basement. Time to go for a walk.’”

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