A surfer heads toward the water at Seawall. Gov. Janet Mills identified “engaging in outdoor exercise” as an essential activity in her “Stay Healthy at Home” mandate to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Avoiding crowds and maintaining social distance is important even while outside, say state officials. ISLANDER PHOTO BY SARAH HINCKLEY

Staying safe and healthy outdoors in the time of coronavirus

MOUNT DESERT ISLAND — The “Stay Healthy at Home” mandate issued by Gov. Janet Mills on March 31 identifies “engaging in outdoor exercise” as an essential activity.  

The mandate does not include team sports, which require close contact and therefore are postponed. It does include “activities such as walking, hiking, running, or biking. 

Like all essential activities that bring people out of their homes, there are guidelines to follow to protect your health, and the health of those around you. Staying close to home is important, according to a joint press release issued by the Maine Department of Agriculture Conservation and Forestry and the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, together with ten conservation groups. 

“Know what’s close to home … [and] respect all property closures,” the press release stated. Keep in mind that normal social distancing guidelines of maintaining a 6-foot distance between people applies, even outside.  

For that reason, “Have a plan B. If the parking lot is full, the destination is too crowded.” Other ways to avoid crowds are to get out early in the day, or late, to avoid peak times. On Mount Desert Island there’s a range of public areas to choose from. 

The Nature Conservancy preserves are open, according to Director of Strategic Communications, Jeremy Cluchey. This includes Indian Point Blagdon Preserve in Bar Harbor, a forested coastal preserve that is popular among bird watchers. It is possible to see seals at low tide from the rocky ledges, with binoculars.  

The brochure box is closed, Cluchey said. Hikers may print out a map from home before visiting the preserve from the Nature Conservancy website. 

There is a small parking lot with limited space for vehicles. Pets are not allowed, and hikers are asked to stay on the trails and respect private property that borders the preserve. 

Maine Coast Heritage Trust sites are also open to the public, according to Director of Stewardship Jane Arbuckle. The Kittredge Brook Preserve in Bar Harbor is not accessible from the high school, she noted, “because access to the school is closed to the public.” She recommends using a four-car parking area off Bluff Road to access trails. 

“We’re keeping an eye on the preserves and hoping that we can continue to keep them open,” Arbuckle said. “People are obviously looking for places to go. That said, none of [the preserves] are equipped to handle large crowds, so we urge visitors to move on if the parking lot is full.” 

Other Maine Coast Heritage Trust sites on Mount Desert Island include Blue Horizons in Bar Harbor, Babson Creek in Somesville, Mitchell Marsh in Tremont, and Kelley Farm in Bernard.  

The Somes Meynell Wildlife Sanctuary accessible from Pretty Marsh Road in Somesville is also open to the public, according to Director Billy Helprin. “The Sanctuary driveway is currently closed, so people can self-monitor numbers of people visiting,” he said, “by cars present alongside the road.” 

Dogs are prohibited in the sanctuary, Helprin noted. He recommended keeping groups to “just a few people max” and maintaining appropriate distance. “Individuals stepping aside on trails for others to pass makes sense.” 

Helprin usually leads weekly group nature walks through the nature sanctuary and along Somes Pond, which are currently suspended. But the public is still invited to enjoy the trails responsibly. 

The carriage roads and trails at Land and Garden Preserve in Seal Harbor are open for public use. The gardens, including Asticou Azalea Garden, Thuya Garden, and the Abby Aldrich Rockerfeller Garden, are closed, according to a statement issued April 3 by CEO Rodney Eason. 

Foot traffic is allowed, though bicycles are not permitted on preserve land. Dogs are allowed on trails and carriage roads, if picked up after. In fact, the Little Long Pond area of the preserve has long allowed dogs to be off-leash, and Eason stated that policy will remain. He cited the Center for Disease Control (CDC) finding “no evidence that the virus that causes COVID-19 can be stread to people from the skin or fur of pets.” 

However, Eason cautioned, dogs should be under verbal command. “If your dog has a tendency to jump on others or is not fully responsive to your voice commands, then you should keep your dog on-leash and close to your side.” 

As at all the other sites mentioned, restroom facilities are not available. Visitors are asked to only park in designated areas. 

As for Acadia National Park, all facilities, roads, and carriage roads are closed. Many of Acadia’s hiking trails are accessible from state and local roads. But Park Superintendent Kevin Schneider encouraged everyone to think twice before going into the park, which is known for its rugged terrain.  

“Any injuries in the park would place a strain on first responders,” he said in an interview last week. “The choice you take to enjoy a hike in the park could put someone else needing care related to COVID-19 in danger.” 

Preparation is key to enjoying the outdoors at any time, but especially now. With only essential businesses open, it is not possible to rent equipment. People must bring their own bicycles, canoes, or whatever is required. Bringing snacks from home avoids unnecessary stops. Proper clothing and footwear for wet, muddy, or icy spring conditions is also important for safety.  


Becky Pritchard
Becky Pritchard covers the town of Bar Harbor, where she lives with her family and intrepid news-dog Joe-Joe. She worked six seasons as a park ranger in Acadia, and still enjoys spending her spare time there.

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