Like you, we are upset and worried. We don’t like our world turned upside-down. We wonder how another pandemic has been allowed to form and quickly spread terror across the globe. Why didn’t humankind learn from the last pandemic, or the one before that, that we need to be proactive and prepared?
This is the time when we should be focused on the fifty-year anniversary of Earth Day, and in renewing the energy and the resolve to save the earth from pollution, ecosystem destruction, and climate change. Instead, we are focused on a very serious health threat and are doing what we can to reduce risk and help others.
First, we are being responsible. We want our members, supporters, and the public to know what changes ACLT has instituted in response to the restrictions that have been enacted by the government to prevent the spread of COVID-19. We have reviewed the March 30th Executive Order from Governor Hogan and are relieved to know that many of ACLT’s functions can continue because they can help people during the crisis. The Order continues to exempt food service establishments, including farms, which means our volunteers can continue working at Double Oak Farm so that we can continue to produce food for the local food pantry. As more and more residents lose their jobs, they will need local food pantries more than ever.
It also stipulates that “engaging in outdoor exercise activities, such as walking, hiking, running, or biking” are considered “Essential Activities” and may continue as long as social distancing rules are followed and no more than 10 people gather in one place. Therefore, we are continuing to keep our trails open to the public subject to these and other protocols.
Even Non-essential Businesses may continue to facilitate remote working, maintain essential property, and perform essential administrative functions, including picking up mail and processing payroll. ACLT’s operations adhere to these most restrictive standards so that we can reduce the chances of spreading the disease.
Our office is closed and locked from public access. Greg Bowen, Executive Director, is working by himself while the rest of the staff is working remotely, coming by only to pick up materials, etc.
We are being proactive while being safe. To help our fellow nature lovers, and those seeking relief from stress, we are keeping all 22 miles of our trails open, as are most state and local parks with trails.
We now have a new app with a QR code at our trailheads so that visitors can sign-in without touching anything but their phones. We have adapted Calvert County’s guidelines for visitors to County parks to apply to our trails:
- Follow the CDC guidance on personal hygiene prior to heading to parks: wash hands with soap and water; carry hand sanitizer.
- Hike only with members of your household. In no case should more than 10 people gather together.
- Stay home if you have symptoms of COVID-19; cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing.
- At all times, maintain a minimum distance of six feet from other people. Practice it and know what it looks like. Maintain it as you hike.
- The CDC’s guidance on social distancing should be maintained for pet owners as well. ACLT trail rules require that you keep your dog on a leash, which helps maintain the six-foot minimum distance.
- Warn other trail users of your presence and as you pass, step off the trails to allow proper distancing, keeping minimum recommended distances at all times.
- Bring your own water or drinks and a suitable trash bag so that you leave no trash behind; take everything with you to protect our staff and fellow hikers.
We have definitely seen an increase in visitors to our trails and we hope to keep them open throughout this crisis to offer some relief to families cooped up at home. Studies have shown the many benefits exercise has on not only physical but mental health as well.
Next, we are scaling up. The longer this crisis continues, the more strain it will have on food-challenged families in our community. We want to be sure production at Double Oak farm is ramped up so that we can support those families by donating our produce to the St. John Vianney interfaith food pantry.
Both Holly Hill and Double Oak are farms and are exempt, as mentioned above. Therefore, we are continuing farm operations and volunteers are welcome to assist as long as they too follow the social distancing protocol. Our Chesapeake Conservation Corps (CCC intern), Charlie Kreizenbeck, has been coordinating efforts to plant a wide variety of vegetables.
ACLT is maintaining its most important facility, its 22 miles of outdoor trails. Autumn Phillips-Lewis, Land Manager, is continuing her stewardship practices with the help of volunteers, many of whom tend bird boxes and trails on their own.
When we came up with our theme for 2020 – “Think Globally, Act Locally” – we thought we would be applying it to environmental crises. But unfortunately, COVID-19 is the global crisis we need to focus on while we act locally and continue to do the work to protect and preserve the Parkers Creek watershed as much as we can in these circumstances.
Meanwhile, our membership can help us by following our Earth Day Countdown on Facebook (or the live feed on our home page) and looking for what new ideas they can pick up and implement. Our members can also help by reading our newsletter and getting involved in our initiatives to protect the lands of Southern Maryland.
We appreciate the understanding of our membership and supporters, and we encourage anyone who has any concerns or questions about these new policies to please contact us to discuss.