PHOTOGRAPH BY LOGAN WATTS, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC
PHOTOGRAPH BY LOGAN WATTS, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

When can you go for a walk in the woods?

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Are you feeling stir-crazy yet? I am. I feel like racing to Washington, D.C.'s Tidal Basin to bask in the cherry blossoms on the National Mall. But I can’t—new measures are in place to keep crowds at bay. It’s the right idea. Ahead of last weekend we reported that while U.S. national parks have waived fees, travelers should think twice about visiting.

Spoiler alert: not everyone did.

In defiance of a state order to shelter in place, crowds swamped beaches, parks, and hiking trails in California. In Arizona, locked-down people seeking a breath of fresh air inundated trails, such as Camelback Mountain near Phoenix, making social distancing nearly impossible. The list goes on, and so do the consequences of passing along the virus.

What a killjoy I have become! The New York Times' Jodi Kantor is even blunter. "Fellow city dwellers," she writes, "we pose a threat to everyone else."

With spring officially here, it seems unbearable to stay away from our most popular parklands, but the greater good demands it. Overuse of national parks is often cited as an example of the tragedy of the commons, an economic theory that describes how people sometimes use natural resources to their advantage without considering the good of society as a whole. Perhaps this theory also applies to our considerations of other people during this pandemic.

Many national park units, lodges, and campgrounds are taking protective measures by closing (here’s a good list). Some organizations, such as the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and the American Alpine Club, are offering smart guidance. Now is a time to listen and care for others. Choose your wilderness escapes thoughtfully. You can still “take” A Walk in the Woods. ... why not do it with Bill Bryson?

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