Valley News – Commentary: Outdoor recreation proved essential during COVID-19 pandemic

Special at the Valley News

Posted: 12/28/2020 22:04:53 PM

Modified: 12/28/2020 22:05:32

A year ago, Upper Valley Trails Alliance staff were busy cleaning our hiking tools after a season of use and putting them in our loaner tool shed.

We had just completed a long and successful season of trail building and maintenance and couldn’t wait to spend some time traveling or seeing family for the holidays. At home, I waited for the start of the ski season (favorite winter activity of my wife and my two children aged 11 and 9), to take our arsenal of winter equipment out of the shed and anticipate a cold and snowy season.

For the most part, last winter went as planned, although I still want more snow.

That all changed on March 15, when our region practically closed its doors and we were told to stay home. School went remote, business meetings went to Zoom, and our community waited to see what would happen next.

One thing that has not changed is the desire of the inhabitants of the Haute Vallée to recreate themselves on the plethora of trails in our region. My family and I have found solace in walking and hiking outdoors whenever possible.

And with that, UVTA has become an essential COVID-19 resource.

Working with senior recreation officials in Vermont and New Hampshire, the UVTA spread the message it was sure to recreate during the pandemic. Use of our Trail Finder website, www.trailfinder.info, has grown by over 100% from the previous year as the “local hike” message spread.

Dozens of local trail groups in the Twin State area, eager to help manage crowds and raise awareness of recreation during COVID-19, have chosen to add their trails to Trail Finder. Even though the children were not in school, they continued to exercise outdoors thanks to the Passport to Winter Fun program, in which nearly 5,000 students from over 60 groups participated. schools and homeschools.

While many summer camps had to remain closed last summer, the UVTA was fortunate to be able to offer our High School Trail Corps program to 40 students who contributed over 1,800 hours on the local trails. While the program has looked different this year with masks, social distancing, and smaller teams, we’ve gone from four to five weeks and built and improved over 75 miles of track.

We have all been impacted, directly or indirectly, by COVID-19. I have not been able to visit my family out of state since last year. I mourned the deaths of loved ones and rejoiced when others recovered. I have attended Zoom weddings and bat mitzvahs when I normally celebrated these occasions in person.

And I have something to be thankful for. Personally, I have been healthy during this pandemic, as have my family and friends. My children were able to go back to school (masked and distanced, but still in school). My wife was able to stay safe as a doctor in the emergency department at DHMC.

I have always been grateful to be able to live in the Upper Valley, and even more so during a pandemic.

I am also extremely grateful to the UVTA Board of Directors, whose guidance and support has enabled us to succeed in these difficult and unprecedented times. Plus, my wonderful colleagues continue to be the heart of the organization and have kept it fun when it easily could not be.

Last but not least, I would like to thank you, the Haute Vallée community, for all that you have done for the UVTA. Donors, members and businesses have come together with financial support and words of encouragement that have enabled us to continue to maintain and improve the local trails, the ones we not only use and love, but really do. need.

I wish you happy holidays and a healthy new year. See you soon on the trails.

Russell Hirschler is Executive Director of the Upper Valley Trails Alliance, a regional trail organization. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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Kelly Choos

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