Although the 50th anniversary of Earth Day is taking place during a worldwide pandemic, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District recreation sites still provide visitors an opportunity to enjoy nature responsibly.
In March, under the recommendation of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Pittsburgh District closed select public facilities, including visitor centers and campgrounds, at all district-managed sites to help combat the spread of COVID-19. However, access to trails, fishing spots and most boat ramps remained open.
From her position at Shenango River Lake, Corps of Engineers Ranger and Natural Resource Specialist, Liz Morsillo, understands why the urge to get outside is strong.
“Many people are using nature as a form of escape during these stressful times,” Ranger Morsillo said. “It’s therapeutic to get outdoors.”
As the nation’s environmental engineer, USACE manages one of the largest federal environmental missions: restoring degraded ecosystems; constructing sustainable facilities; regulating waterways; managing natural resources and cleaning up contaminated sites from past military activities.
Environmental stewardship at the areas around flood-management project sites is a part of the Corps’ “managing natural resources” mandate. USACE honors that mandate during a pandemic by lowering staffing levels and reducing services, such as trash pickup, to combat the unique set of obstacles associated with COVID-19.
“Our greatest challenge is with the influx of visitors looking for an escape while still maintaining the social-distancing standard,” Bill Spring, Mosquito Creek Lake resource manager said. “We encourage our visitors to enjoy the parks that remain open while using the ‘pack it in, pack it out’ concept.”
The idea of “pack it in, pack it out” encourages public land visitors to take the trash they and others generate back home for disposal.
With discontinued trash and cleaning services, Mr. Spring says parks are seeing adverse side effects of popular recreation activities such as fishing, hiking and boating.
“This Earth Day, we hope that everyone can do their part to keep our natural resources free of trash and looking beautiful for all to enjoy,” Mr. Spring said.
Tygart Lake Resource Manager Stacy E. Lewis says time outside is never wasted. She sees this Earth Day as a chance to learn lessons many students have recently only been receiving via the internet.
“Take the time from your online schooling to get outside, plant a tree, a pollinator such as wildflowers, or simply observe wildlife at its fullest,” Ms. Lewis said. “Earth Day isn’t just about planting trees, it’s about taking time to appreciate your surroundings.”
Earth Day in the era of COVID-19 requires the public to be even more diligent in practicing responsible recreation. Social distancing, avoiding parks and recreation areas if you are sick or have illness symptoms, helping keep recreation sites clean, and as always wearing a life jacket when in, on or near water is vital to ensure safe and healthy outdoor activities.
Jeff Toler, resource manager at Stonewall Jackson Lake, wants the public to use the pandemic limitations of this Earth Day as a time to reflect on the fact we are but passing tenants of our planet’s natural treasures and obligated to leave it inhabitable for future generations.
“The extra time at home also allows us to think about our roles and responsibilities to care for our planet,” Toler said. “It is time to act. Though this Earth Day we are living in the midst of a pandemic, we can still take action.”
Toler advised using virtual tools to educate children and take time to talk, brainstorm ideas and plan about how to improve our environment.
But Toler says planning isn’t enough.
“We can plan, but when this pandemic has passed, we need to be ready to put some of our ideas into action,” Toler said.