Trail running in Garden of the Gods. Colorado Springs, Colorado.

By Spencer McKee

The coronavirus outbreak has forced many Americans to change their public behavior, including how they act in the outdoor space. Outdoor ethics-promoting non-profit Leave No Trace has released data in coordination with Pennsylvania State University regarding how the presence of COVID-19 and related restrictions have altered individual interactions with the great outdoors. Impacts have been seen in a number of ways, including where recreation occurs, who one is recreating with, and what activities are taking place.

One significant impact of the coronavirus outbreak has been seen in group size. Prior to March 11, respondents had an average group size of 5.61 people. Post-outbreak, this number dropped to 1.85. This means that more recreationists are partaking alone or with a limited number of others. Keep in mind that social distancing policies and social norms have strongly discouraged unnecessary interactions with anyone outside of the home, likely a factor in this shift.

The distance traveled to recreate has also been impacted by the outbreak, with nearly 50 percent of respondents opting to stay within two miles of their home. Prior to March 11, only 10.8 percent of respondents were doing so.

Respondents also indicated that they were participating in certain activities far more and others, far less. Activities that saw the largest participation decrease included those that tend to involve the most travel and risk – skiing, climbing, backpacking, and camping. Those that saw the largest upswing included activities that could likely be conducted in a residential area, including gardening, running, and birding.

Another interesting finding from the research was that urban residents have seen a larger impact of coronavirus on their outdoor recreation habits than their rural and suburban counterparts.

With regard to whether or not COVID-19 would lead to lasting behavioral changes, 37.7 percent of respondents thought it would. Increased public land use, increased diversity in activities, and increase in overall fitness-based activity were among the expected long-term changes.

Credit to OutThereCOLORADO.