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Keep it in Your Zip Code – How to Paddle in a Pandemic

Posted: 04/01/2020
by Evan Stafford

Our friends at Outdoor Alliance recently released How to Get Outside (during a pandemic), a set of guidelines for recreating in the most responsible way possible. We borrowed their considerations and added some paddling specific ideas. This is an important time for paddlers to be a part of the solution to both help slow the spread of COVID19 and advance stewardship efforts for your favorite rivers. The first step is simple - stay in your zip code. A short abstinence from paddling outside your neighborhood can save lives and keep the delicate balance that ensures enough water to boat and river access in many rural communities from shifting in the wrong direction. Maintaining constructive relationships with communities where we recreate is in our long-term interest as we work with them to improve the health of rivers and our opportunities to enjoy them. 

We're dying to paddle just like you. We know staying in your own backyard might mean training for paddling and not actually paddling during the pandemic for some of you. Or maybe paddling flatwater or, if you're really lucky, paddling the river through town that you learned on. That's OK. Really, it's going to be kind of rad on the backend - get in the best shape of your life right before you revisit all your favorite runs with the zest of a long lost lover! Imagine the river party we're gonna throw when we can freely roam from river to river as long as the water lasts. So, start prepping now. And please get outside somehow - this is the time to explore the space between spaces in your neighborhood, something super local that gets you outside (even if it's not for paddling). It's key for physical and mental health, but when you do go outside bring all of the following considerations to your decision-making and feel good about doing your part for the local communities who support our rivers and our continued ability to paddle there. 

MAKE THE HEALTH OF OTHERS YOUR NUMBER ONE PRIORITY.

The COVID-19 pandemic is life and death for many people. Please conduct yourself in every respect with that in mind.

YOU CAN GO OUTSIDE. CAUTIOUSLY.

Don't go out if you're sick or have been in contact with those who are or have been sick. Keep a safe distance from others. 

That includes in the car, so if your session typically involves a shuttle, plan accordingly. This is key for paddlers. Have a plan for a human-powered shuttle or another option that allows you to maintain social distancing or don't go. Shuttling in the car with a paddling partner you're not already exposed to is a no go. 

Groups are out. This isn't a good time to have an impromptu party at the take-out beach. Get on the river with family members or roommates (quarantine partners) in a best case scenario, or with one or two partners and maintain your social distance. 

Consider avoiding busy areas and times of day. Wash your hands and phone regularly. Follow CDC guidelines carefully.

STAY CLOSE TO HOME.

Like, as close as possible. Far away rivers or even that creek one drainage away or town an hour down the road may have the most quality whitewater, but the further you travel, the more potential you have to spread illness. Shop and recreate in your own neighborhood. 

KEEP IT CHILL.

It's not a good time to get hurt. Healthcare systems are overwhelmed, or soon will be. Please do not add to the burden. Beyond that, you probably don't want to set foot in a hospital right now about as much as you want to lick the grocery cart handle. And elective surgeries are likely to be on hold for the foreseeable future, so if you blow out your ACL, you might be in for a long wait. Specific to paddling, minimize your exposure by not getting even remotely remote and paddling well within your ability.

RESPECT CLOSURES AND BE A GOOD STEWARD.

If parks (or other river access areas) are closed, don't go. If parks are open, be especially mindful of not overburdening areas that might have limited maintenance and oversight. Pack out your trash, use the restroom before you leave the house, and use Leave No Trace practices if you need to go the bathroom outside (i.e. bring a wag bag). The River Management Society is keeping a list of closures here. This list is almost certainly not complete but will be serve as a good starting place. Please confirm with your local river management agency that rivers and importantly, river access areas, are open for recreation before heading out.

SURF THE COUCH.

If you don't feel well, stay home and isolate yourself from others. 

You can check frequently-updated CDC guidelines here. Given the uneven federal response to the crisis, consider health recommendations and state requirements a bare minimum. Simply put - think of others. Always follow social distancing guidelines. Don't shuttle. Don't go much past your neighborhood. Take it down a notch. Practice good stewardship. And always, always wash your hands.


Evan Stafford
516 Stover St
Fort Collins, CO 80524
Phone: 970-420-5377