In any crisis, rumors spread. The COVID-19 crisis is no exception, and some of the rumors are real doozies — especially a couple that relate to outdoor recreation.
The latest, and wildest, is that West Virginia’s spring turkey-hunting season will be canceled.
That rumor is false.
“We’ve been getting calls about that,” Division of Natural Resources director Steve McDaniel told me earlier this week. “The bottom line is that turkey hunting is one of the most solitary outdoor activities anyone can engage in. Our turkey season will not be closed, and in fact, we encourage as many turkey hunters as possible to get out of the house and enjoy some time in the woods.”
To repeat, just so everyone understands: West Virginia’s spring turkey-hunting season will open as scheduled on April 20 and will close as scheduled on May 16. End of story.
The second rumor is that people can’t go fishing. That rumor also is false.
In fact, on Thursday, Gov. Jim Justice announced that from March 26 through April 24, no fishing license would be required to fish in the Mountain State.
People might have become confused when state officials postponed the “Gold Rush” stockings that were scheduled to have begun this weekend. The postponement was intended to keep large crowds of people from gathering at pre-announced stocking sites, not to discourage people from going fishing at all.
Fishing, like turkey hunting, is a great way to escape COVID-induced cabin fever, either alone or with a few friends. As long as anglers don’t congregate in groups of 10 or more, they’re good to go.
The third rumor is that state parks are closed. While it’s true that state-park lodges and cabins have been closed to visitors, the parks themselves remain open.
Hiking and backpacking are two more great solo- or small group-oriented activities, and West Virginia’s state park system has about a bazillion miles of well-maintained hiking trails.
This is a great time of the year for hiking. It’s not too cold, it’s not too hot, trees are starting to green up and wildflowers are starting to bloom.
Many of those hiking trails double as mountain-bike trails. Most cyclists ride by themselves or in small groups, so it dovetails nicely with the social-distancing guidelines set forth by the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
I can’t ride mountain bikes anymore, but I do ride my road bike. While it’s tempting to hop on the machine and crank out a quick 10 or 20 miles on my local circuit, I’ll stick to walking for one simple reason: If I have an accident, I might use up emergency-room resources that would otherwise be used to treat people infected with the coronavirus.
I’m not the only cyclist who’s doing so. As I understand it, the Mountain State Wheelers bike club has suspended its regularly scheduled road rides for the time being.
It’s not that mountain bikers can’t have accidents; they can, and do. But those accidents tend to be less severe than those suffered by road cyclists, who ride much faster and have to compete with cars, dogs and other road hazards.
The bottom line, I suppose, is this: Find an outdoor activity you can do by yourself or with a handful of others. Avoid gathering in groups of 10 or more. Maintain the recommended 6-foot social-distancing space between yourself and others.
Then go enjoy the outdoors. That’s what it’s there for.