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As coronavirus sweeps across the globe, countries have responded with varying degrees of lockdown. Here in Ontario, and much of the rest of Canada, all but essential services (grocery stores, pharmacies, some public transit) have been closed. The government has asked us not to visit friends and family, and stay at home as much as possible.

With the exception of the grocery store, I haven’t left the condo in who knows how many days. I find myself dreaming of owning a big house with an even bigger backyard, perhaps in Wyoming or South Island, New Zealand. Some place with a garden and trees, a beautiful mountain view and enough ‘outside’ that I wouldn’t even need to leave my property.

But alas, that is not the case. Even now I sit beside one of those floor-to-ceiling windows so popular in new condos, a concrete balcony on the other side of the glass. In the distance I see a field of parking lots; apartment buildings stand like lifeless pine trees. I’d really like to go outside.

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But now is not the time to go outside

There are two reasons I urge people to postpone their outdoor adventures: 1) It’s hard to maintain social distancing on a trail, 2) The health care system can’t afford any injuries right now.

It might seem harmless to walk by someone at the trail head or quickly pass by them on your hike. But why risk it? Sure, a couple people hiking probably won’t make a difference. But if lots of people have that mentality, then lots of people will leave their homes and dramatically increase the likelihood of passing on the virus.

Second, we need every nurse, doctor, hospital administrator 100% dedicated to treating those with coronavirus and other unavoidable health conditions. Injuries are a common part of outdoor adventure. Please don’t be the idiot that sprains their ankle on the trail and needs to get an X-ray. Again, a single sprained ankle may not be a big deal. But if lots of people are outside and a handful of those people get injured, then we are unnecessarily taking healthcare capacity away from fighting a pandemic.

Looking forward to when I can get back on the water

Trust me – I too feel cooped up in my condo. (Although the persistent overcast weather outside helps a little.) Maybe I will go for a walk in the park or an open field, only exiting my vehicle when I see there are exactly 0 other people in sight. Maybe I will just sit on my concrete balcony and relive previous adventures in my head. Maybe I’ll read an outdoor adventure book, plan for my next trip or pick up an indoor-adventure hobby or two.

And all the energy and angst you build up from staying inside so long – let’s channel that into the outdoor industry once we get the go-outside-all-clear. The outdoor industry will need it.

Canada’s economic response

So far I’ve been (mostly) proud of Canada’s response to COVID-19. I wish we had greater capacity for testing and tracing, but beyond that I think Canada has responded well. We went on lockdown earlier than most other countries, so we haven’t ~yet~ exceeded our health care system’s capacity. We have the most amazing nurses and doctors and paramedics. The government revised its initial economic relief plans to now provide $2000 per month for up to four months to anyone unemployed. They will cover up to 75% of employee salaries so small business won’t be forced to lay off staff, in addition to offering those businesses up to $40,000 in interest-free loans.

But I’m still concerned for my beloved outdoor industry.

I’m not worried about the major outdoor clothing and gear retailers. Patagonia and North Face, I’m sure, will be fine. I’m a little nervous for MEC – I hear they’ve been strapped for a cash for a while now. But more so I am worried about the small outfitters located along the Madawaska River and on the outskirts of Algonquin Park. I’m worried about the ma-and-pop guiding companies. With uncertain travel bans, how many guests will be forced to withdraw from their trips? And once the travel ban is lifted, how long will it take people to start traveling again? It’s hard to stay afloat after losing such a large chunk of your business.

What about the wilderness medicine instructors who teach courses in April, May and June? Those have surely been canceled. Or the canoe guides hired for the spring season – once the four months of unemployment benefits run out, will there be enough work to hold them over until their next contract? What about the kids who will be pulled out of camp, their parents unable to afford such a luxury amidst so much financial uncertainty? What will happen to them this summer?

How will the environment look when all this is said and done? In the US, the Environmental Protection Agency has suspended environmental regulations. It’s predicted coronavirus will cause significant delays to climate change progress.

I know all this might sounds trivial – “Who cares about outdoor recreation in the face of a global pandemic, Mikaela?” Yes, agreed. Right now, let’s worry about supporting our health care workers and finding face masks and practicing social distancing and helping our elderly neighbours.

But when the dust that’s settled stirs again and the malls reopen, when the transit system creeks under the weight of full capacity and office buildings light up once more, when the government has handed out its last cheque and bailed out its last company, when the health care workers and delivery persons and truck drivers and cashiers can finally rest and breath easy – when everything gets back to normal, what will normal look like?

Like tourism, the outdoor industry is extremely seasonal. It extends from late April to early October, with the bulk of activity from late June to late August. If everything reopens by May, maybe we won’t have such a problem. But if things stay closed until June or July, if travel restrictions aren’t lifted for many more months, it’ll be a difficult year for the outdoor industry.

So once we can go outside again, let’s go outside with all our might.

Let’s take a lesson in whitewater canoeing or join a wilderness first aid course. Let’s buy gear from local outfitters instead of multi-national retailers. Let’s help our fellow paddlers, hikers, campers and climbers. Once we can all go outside again, I hope we will double down our efforts to support the local businesses who have supported us in our outdoor adventures and wilderness pursuits.

And by the time we can go outside again, maybe it’ll be late spring / summer and all the flowers will be in bloom!

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