Experiencing outdoor adventures in the face of a pandemic

Driving around Amicalola State Park offers spectacular view of the changing leaves. CONTRIBUTED BY GEORGIA STATE PARKS

In times of chaos, nature has an intrinsic way of bringing everything back into balance again. From the delicate waxing and waning of the seasons, to the fluctuation of human emotions and physiology, the great outdoors often acts like a reset button to make all things right again.

Throughout 2020, chaos could certainly be found. If the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic and the disruption of normalcy wasn’t enough to worry about, add on the fight against social injustices, the uncertainty of the job market and never-ending political controversies. Never has there been a more valid reason to spend time communing with nature than during this stressful and turbulent year.

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While most businesses and gathering spots these days require patrons to wear a mask before entrance, it’s a revitalizing change of pace to breathe in fresh air, mask free, while hiking, biking, rafting, ziplining, tubing or taking part in one of the countless other outdoor adventures found around the state.

In fact, researchers at the Mayo Clinic suggests that spending time outdoors may offer a safe and beneficial solution to the isolation and boredom felt by most people during the pandemic. “When you’re outside, fresh air is constantly moving...so, you’re less likely to breathe in enough of the respiratory droplets containing the virus that causes COVID-19 to become infected.”

It’s hard to overestimate the physical and emotional benefits gained from spending time outdoors. For larger families who took the quarantine very seriously, getting out in nature was a real life saver.

Heather Hirsch, a stay-at-home mother of seven from Cumming, understands these benefits well. Throughout the pandemic, she has made it a priority to take her family on hikes and explorations around Amicalola Falls State Park, Sawnee Mountain Preserve and Yahoola Creek Park. “Being outdoors, especially in the earlier part of the pandemic, was very important to my family,” explains Hirsch, “We live in a subdivision, which makes it very hard to social distance. Hiking and splashing in the creeks...provided us exercise, fresh air and sunshine, all I feel very essential to staying well.”

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Within a Georgia State Park or Recreation Area, you might encounter certain changes to safety protocols, such as increased sanitation measures, limited access to facilities and signage encouraging social distancing. Visitors can experience reduced availability of bathrooms and drinking fountains, making it more important than ever to plan ahead by bringing your own water and locating operational restrooms before you begin. Most Visitor Centers and Historic Site Museums will remain open, with social distancing protocols in place, and Park Rangers will patrol in their vehicles.

With a noticeable increase in weekend crowds, many Georgia State Parks have taken measures to periodically limit admission in order to maintain social distancing. Hirsch played it smart. “My family brought masks on our outings, but did not need wear them as we where able to social distance,” she says, “We gave other hikers on the trail space and choose not to do the stairs at Amicalola State Park on the weekends (during) high crowd days.” When planning your next outdoor adventure, consider going on a weekday to avoid running into overcrowding.

Cheryl Ferreira, mother of seven from Dawsonville, used Appalachian Outfitters out of Dahlonega for a tubing adventure and had no trouble following safety guidelines while drifting along the Chestatee River with her family. “Because we went on a weekday, there were only a few people there in addition to our group, so we didn’t have to worry about social distancing,” explains Ferreira, “It was just us, floating down a river, feeling carefree, while relaxing and enjoying the beautiful weather and scenery.” This speaks to the needs of everyone trying to relieve stress, which can not only take a toll on health and wellness, but also on quality of life.

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If you’ve ever thought about trying a new outdoor adventure with your friends or family, you can still do so during the pandemic with safety measures in place. Although you might encounter a few more people on the trails than usual, you’ll still find plenty of wide open spaces to experience the great outdoors safely. And with mounting evidence that spending time outside can boost the immune system as well as provide an improved sense of well being, you’ll do your family a service by getting them out among the trees, rivers, lakes, mountains and beaches found throughout Georgia.

“I would say that each of our outdoor adventures was a way to feel part of something bigger than ourselves, bringing a nice reprieve from the monotony of just staying in our house,” notes Ferreira, “It filled our tanks physically, emotionally, spiritually and socially and literally provided a ‘breath of fresh air’ for our family.”

WHERE TO GO

Looking for your next big outdoor adventure? You don’t have to look very far. Whether you need a little excitement or just a day to unwind and relax, one of these renown hiking locations and adventure companies can give your family a much needed break from the norm. Get a breath of fresh air and your sanity back by checking out these top picks:

· Amicalola Falls State Park. Hiking. 418 Amicalola Falls State Park Road, Dawsonville. 800-573-9656. www.amicalolafallslodge.com.

· Screaming Eagle Adventures. Ziplining and aerial adventures. 418 Amicalola Falls Lodge Road, Dawsonville. 706-265-1233. www.amicalolazipline.com.

· Appalachian Outfitters. Canoeing, kayaking and tubing. 1182 Golden Ave., Dahlonega. 706-867-7116. www.canoegeorgia.com.

· Chestatee River Outfitters. Kayaking and tubing. 2718 South Chestatee St., Dahlonega. 770-540-9950. www.chestateeriveradventures.com.

· Heron Outdoor Adventures. Fishing excursions. Lake Allatoona. 404-919-4918. www.heronoutdooradventures.com.

· Nacoochee Adventures. Ziplining, ropes course and bike rentals. 7019 South Main St., Helen. 706-878-9477. www.nacoocheeadventures.com.

· Rolling Thunder River Company. Whitewater rafting, canoeing, kayaking and tubing. 20 Hughes St., McCaysville. 800-408-7238. www.rollingthunderriverco.com.

· Sawnee Mountain Preserve. Hiking. 770-781-2215. 4075 Spot Road, Cumming. www.parks.forsythco.com.

· Southeastern Expeditions. Whitewater rafting, canoeing and kayaking. 7350 Highway 76 East, Clayton. 800-868-7238. www.southeasternexpeditions.com.

· Sunburst Adventures. Ziplining, horseback riding, boating and ATV/UTV. 251 Sunburst Lane, Clarkesville. 706-947- 7433. www.sunburststables.com.

· Tallulah Gorge State Park. Hiking. 338 Jane Hurt Yarn Drive, Tallulah Falls. 706-754-7981. www.gastateparks.org.

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