Under public health guidelines to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, we are working remotely and are here to serve you virtually.

Earth Day and embracing the outdoors during a pandemic

Moira Harrington, Wisconsin Sea Grant’s assistant director for communications, spent time outdoors during the pandemic with a friend (6 feet apart) as did many other Wisconsinites. Image credit: Moira Harrington

The coronavirus will provide plenty to study for decades to come as biological, social and physical scientists collect data and analyze its fallout. As we approach the 51st Earth Day, happening this Thursday, I would like to offer preliminary results in one area—what it has meant to embrace the outdoors in this time when indoor spaces have been vector zones for the deadly virus. My own take is a narrow review, very narrow, of the past year’s empirical, humorous and anecdotal looks at nature in the time of COVID. 

Empirical: One study I bumped into showed 23% of Wisconsinites reported increasing their time spent in parks from January 2020 to March 2021. In the same time frame and as part of the same study, Harvard and Brown universities (tracktherecovery.org) drilled deeper into three Lake Michigan counties and found 45.5% of Sheboygan County residents, 21.1% of Ozaukee County residents and 18.7% of Milwaukee residents increased their out-of-doors pandemic respite time.

Humorous: In 2020, comedian Samantha Bee went into the open air for recordings of her show. It was a literal presentation of: we have nice natural things and let’s get out there and appreciate them. Although, her take was not always a paean to Mother Nature and could be sprinkled with obscenities. 

A view from the Indian Lake Trail. Image credit: Moira Harrington

Anecdotal: Like many of you, I ranged far afield over the last year. I visited spots I had always intended to frequent and now seemed the time! One was the Kettle Morraine Forest Southern Unit. Having a close friend join me made it more special. As we trekked, we traded stories and deepened our bond.

I also trekked closer to home. One memorable day, I hit a favorite county park when a significant event was marked in the woods. That Saturday morning, a companion got a cell-phone ping bearing news of who won the presidential race in Pennsylvania, sealing the deal for our current White House occupant. Plus, plans are afoot to keep up the visits. For trips along the coast, I plan to turn to my colleague David Hart’s Wisconsin Coastal Guide for ideas, and I hope you will, too.

If you end up in the outdoors this Earth Day, know that you’ll be in good company.