Connecting with Nature While Social Distancing | New Hampshire Public Radio

Connecting with Nature While Social Distancing

Apr 7, 2020

It’s warming up and signs of Spring are beginning to emerge. How can we connect with nature safely and responsibly during this pandemic? We discuss where to find less-travelled trails, and how to find inspiration in your own backyard. Hosted by Sam Evans-Brown.

 

Air Date: Thursday, April 2, 2020

 

GUESTS:

  • Dr. Lisa V. Adams - practicing physician and Associate Professor in the Infectious Disease and International Health Section of the Dept of Medicine at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth. She is also the Director of Global Initiatives at Dartmouth and Co-Chair of Dartmouth’s COVID-19 Task Force.
  • Russell Hirschler - Executive Director of the Upper Valley Trails Alliance, one of the lead partners in the Trail Finder partnership. They are a partner with other organizations in producing the Trailfinder website. 
  • Eric Masterson - Land Protection and Stewardship Manager, Harris Center for Conservation Education in Hancock N.H. and author of the guide Birdwatching in N.H.. When not fielding questions about birds, he can be found bicycling the migration route of the Broad-winged Hawk from N.H. to Panama, or learning how to ride thermals in his hang glider. See the video on his current project below.
  • Lelia Mellen - She is the NH Projects Director for the National Park Service River, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program (a Trail Finder partner).

Credit Sara Plourde, NHPR

 

 

Resources

The Society for Protection of N.H. Forests has a Forest Reservation Guide - all are open to the public -and they have many resources on their website.

This Outside magazine article contends "wilderness is all around you."

InDepthNH.org is offering a free (no paywall) weekly outdoor column aimed at connecting people to their backyards.

 

This Slate article details How to Get Started Birdwatching During a Pandemic.

 

Eric Masterson has fallen in love with bird migration - and specifically with a little-known wonder of the world that happens every spring and fall, right over our heads, under cover of darkness.  To avoid hawks and navigate by the stars, millions upon millions of birds migrate at night, flying over our houses while we sleep. (His project to collect nightsongs in detail at this link

Nightsongs from SALT Project on Vimeo.

Transcript

Sam Evans-Brown:
From New Hampshire Public Radio, I'm Sam Evans-Brown, host of NHPR's Outside/In in for Laura Knoy. And this is The Exchange.

Sam Evans-Brown:
Stay at home, don't travel. Stay at least six feet away from people from outside your household. But you can still leave home for outdoor recreation.

Gov. Sununu audio clip:
We cannot stress this enough. You should stay at your house unless absolutely necessary. Of course, will not prevent you from leaving your home to go on a walk or when heading to the store, or if you need groceries or simply going to work. But beyond essential necessities, you should not be leaving your home.

Sam Evans-Brown:
That's the slightly mixed message New Hampshire residents are getting from state officials at this time, as more people are finding themselves at home with more time on their hands and fewer officially sanctioned activities to engage in. The number of cars at trailheads and people on trails is ballooning. Packed trailheads at popular hiking spots like Mount Major in Mount Monadnock have led some New Hampshire residents to ask, should I really go for a hike right now? So today on the show, we're going to help you think about that question, but also talk about some simple low risk ways that you can get out, feel the sun on your face. But keep yourself safe at the same time. Joining us right now to talk about the science behind getting outside safely is Dr. Lisa V.Adams, a practicing physician and associate professor at the Infectious Disease and International Health Section of the Department of Medicine at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth. She's also the director of Global Initiatives at Dartmouth and co-chair of Dartmouth's COVID-19 Task Force. Lisa, thanks for being with us. Now, it's my pleasure to be with you. So maybe we should just start with the benefits of getting outdoors. What does it do for your immune system to get outside?

Dr. Lisa V. Adams:
Sure. Well, we know that physical exercise is good for our mental and our physical health. Right. That certainly that physical exercise and being outside can offer a very calming effect, especially after the endorphins are released. But really the the usual recommendations of things like eating a diet high in, fruits and vegetables, getting adequate sleep, seven or eight hours a night and getting regular exercise are all things we can do to stay healthy overall. And we believe that like all of our body systems, that this helps our immune system stay healthy as well. So certainly while you can. You should be getting outside and going for that solo walk or run.

Sam Evans-Brown:
So talk to us about what the current understanding of how the disease is transmitted, where things are at with that understanding. The recommendation we're getting is six feet of distance between you and anyone else. Tell us tell us about why, where that recommendation comes from.

Dr. Lisa V. Adams:
Sure. The magical foot distancing recommendation that we're all that we're all now well aware of. Well, the good news is this is really based on science, including the best available science that we have about how COVID-19 is transmitted and what we know about the trajectory of respiratory droplets. So just like the flu, COVID-19 is spread person-to-person, primarily via respiratory droplets, meaning that the virus is released in our respiratory secretions. When an infected person coughs or sneezes or talks, now that respiratory droplet can either make direct contact with another person's mucous membranes, their nose or mouth, or can land on the surface that someone then touches, who then touches their their nose or eyes or mouth. So based on the size and weight, these respiratory droplets typically do not travel more than six feet before they settle. So that's where the 6-foot distancing guideline comes from. Now, I know that there has been at least one report suggesting that COVID-19 can linger in the air up to three hours in experimental conditions, meaning it becomes aerosolized and therefore could be transmitted that way. But the clinical relevance of this finding is still unclear. It certainly seems theoretically possible, but thankfully does not appear to be the main mechanism for transmission. Now, I do remind people that that six foot distance guideline is a minimum distance, so feel free to give a wider berth when you are passing people that you don't live with. And of course, the best guidance is to stay home as much as possible if you have questions about being outdoors during a pandemic.

Sam Evans-Brown:
I have to say, Lisa, I was speaking to some friends who live in New York City and that finding that you were talking about, about how the particles in a laboratory condition can hang in the air for three hours. It has definitely permeated for folks who are in New York City. And there are many folks who are afraid of even going out onto the sidewalk down there.

Dr. Lisa V. Adams:
Yes. And I think that that can be dangerous. Again, we're talking about theoretical transmission here. And I think really we should be encouraging people to get outside again for their mental and physical health when they can. I know it's it can be difficult in crowded cities. I even found that in my normally quiet town when I go for my walk, that there's many more people out walking and running and and biking than I'm used to seeing and have to, you know, we're all crossing the, you know, the street or are giving each other, you know, a wide circle. I think it's best for us to be able to do this safely. I don't think we need to be as worried about passing people, you know, and again, giving that 6 foot or more distance. Really, I think is is it fair to say that we should feel comfortable being outside? We can say hello to our neighbors as we pass them from a six foot or more distance. But I do think getting outside, you know, for our own physical mental health is is going to be important. We don't know how long we're going be in the state. You know, we have a stay at home order at least until May 4th in New Hampshire. It may be extended. We don't know. And so we really have to be able to figure out how to pace ourselves mentally and physically to get through this period.

Sam Evans-Brown:
So one of the things that I have heard conflicting information about is sunshine. So does sunshine destroy the virus?

Dr. Lisa V. Adams:
So we do know that ultraviolet light and radiation can kill viruses, including coronaviruses. I don't expect that the ultraviolet light that we get on a sunny day to have much of an impact. You know, we do know that this virus has spread now in all climates, tropical, temperate and cold climates. But I think there's still much more that we're learning about this virus and how hardy it is exactly.

Sam Evans-Brown:
So, in other words, we we don't know really for sure yet. So you can't count on sunshine to destroy the virus.

Dr. Lisa V. Adams:
No, it may help, but I wouldn't rely on that as as a major protective effect. I think being outside too where, again, there's there's much more air exchange is probably the more important factor there.

Sam Evans-Brown:
So if there is something that means that there's inherently less risk of transmission outdoors, it's the fact that the air is mixing.

Dr. Lisa V. Adams:
Yes, that's my sense is that we're having a much larger airspace that we're sharing when we're outside.

Sam Evans-Brown:
Right. On our show Outside/In we're doing an episode about this today. And we spoke with a public health physician who said that one of things that we've learned because of the HIV crisis is that messaging that strictly prohibits a desirable activity - in the case of HIV, sex - in the case of going outside, just feeling the sun on your face - has not been found to really work. That just telling people to not do things isn't really effective and that what does work is suggesting ways to lower your risk. Does that jibe with your experience?

Dr. Lisa V. Adams:
Oh, exactly. Again, I always say as a physician, I wouldn't tell my patients to do something that I myself couldn't see myself doing in terms of lifestyle changes and what have you. So we really have to make our guidance practical. And that's something in public health that we're always trying to do, is balance, you know, limiting, or reducing risk and making our guidance practical and reasonable for people to follow. So I think you're right. Anything that's too stringent is just going to not be adhered to. And we've then lost the battle. So making our guidance realistic and practical, I think is a very important part of public health.

Dr. Lisa V. Adams:
So I'd like to see if we could maybe just run down a list of some activities that people may be thinking of doing. And we could talk about how you personally would make the calculus regarding these activities. And we alluded to one already. So running or cycling on your own seems like probably pretty safe, right?

Dr. Lisa V. Adams:
That's my sense, too. And that's what I'm encouraging people to do, is to go for that solo run or walk or bike ride or hikes. Now, I know we're going to hear much more about trails and maybe finding the path less taken. But, you know, narrow hiking trails, you know, can be challenging for people to be able to give that six foot distance as you're as you're passing one another. But in general, I'm encouraging the solo hikes, runs, walks, bike rides, which then leads to the question about what about driving somewhere to do something like hiking or, for instance, mountain biking?

Dr. Lisa V. Adams:
Sure. As you're driving in your own vehicle and parking at a trailhead and then getting outside, I don't think that increases the risk much. We know that we need to get into our car to perform other essential functions. If we are household members who we're already in close contact with are the ones in the car. I think that that's, you know, generally considered, again, as safe as we can be.

Sam Evans-Brown:
What about things like golf or playing tennis where you're at a public facility? But, you know, for tennis, obviously, social distance is kind of built into the game.

Dr. Lisa V. Adams:
Exactly. And I have heard of of, you know, people doing things like even trying to just, you know, shoot baskets or play catch and doing things like wiping down the basketball or baseball or softball or using if you're playing tennis, using brand new tennis balls and even wiping down the net, of course, washing hands before and after and all of that, you know, probably reduces any risks. And again, making sure that you have that built in six foot distance. Now, some experts are saying too that, you know, in exercise, you actually want to consider even doubling the distance, making it 12 feet just because of breathing hard and what that may do to, you know, increasing secretions being released and what we are breathing in. So I have heard that recommendeded. I also recommend playing those sports, tennis catch or golf with your household members. So those people that you're already in close contact with. And again, just keeping in mind that this is all guidance, so I keep coming back to the more that you can limit contact with others and things outside of your home, the better.

Sam Evans-Brown:
Right. And is it for thinking of this as activities that walk up the scale of risk, obviously, getting in your car is slightly riskier than not and going to a public facility where there are services you might touch is slightly riskier than not as well.

Dr. Lisa V. Adams:
Exactly. The other thing that I encourage to is remember, it's it since it is mud season. It's also not a bad time for thinking about indoor workouts. And many gyms and fitness centers are offering free online live or prerecorded workouts and yoga classes. And for those things, you really don't need much more than a yoga mat, a towel, maybe sneakers to participate. So I'm encouraging folks to check those out as well.

Sam Evans-Brown:
What about swimming? Obviously, it's a little early for outdoor swimming, but what do we know about how the virus survives in water?

Dr. Lisa V. Adams:
So my sense is certainly some secretions will be released from your mucous membranes, your nose and your mouth while swimming. But in a chlorinated pool, the virus is probably killed. We know that it is relatively easily killed with bleach and other common household disinfectants. But we also know that because of the potential contact getting in and out of the pool and dressing rooms and the various surfaces one might touch, I know that many indoor pools have closed. And when we get to a point where we can be swimming outdoors, we may be in a very different situation with the virus and the pandemic. Now, I don't know how much we know about the ability of the virus to us to survive in freshwater and in a large body of water. Obviously, I'd like to think that it would be quickly dispersed, but I think we'll expect to know more about just how safe swimming might be over time.

Sam Evans-Brown:
We have a call from David in Canterbury. David, you're on The Exchange. What's your question for Dr. Adams?

Caller:
I hate to ask questions like this, but I was talking to people lately and this conversation came up. How long does this virus live in raw sewage and sludge. Every sewage plant in the United States, is getting that virus coming in every day and are they going to take that sludge and put it out on our farms and continue to spread the virus through the sludge they're putting on our farms?

Sam Evans-Brown:
For those who don't know, I believe David is referring to something called biosolids, which is a practice of taking processed sewage and using it as fertilizer on farm fields. What do we know about that?

Dr. Lisa V. Adams:
This may be going beyond my my expertise. Hazard of a call-in show. But again, you know, that's something I think that we'd have get a sense of whether it, the virus, is present in those materials. And I don't know if testing is being done. I will say, you know, we do know that from the virus being found on various surfaces that we're talking about, it's being detected, you know, days after. What we don't know is whether the virus in those surfaces can actually lead to transmission. Is it dead virus or virus particles that actually couldn't infect another person? So that may be the case, that with other materials that we might be using on our farms too that, that if there is virus here, is it still viable virus or is it just virus particles? And if it's been a period of days since that sewage contained any virus, it may not survive. The virus may not be viable days later. So if we're talking about receiving these agricultural materials, you know, days or weeks after they've been produced, I think that that might be more reassuring.

Sam Evans-Brown:
Alex writes as an email, we touched on this already, but maybe we should circle back to it, On an outdoor solo walk. What is the possibility of coming in contact with aerosols from someone who has passed by recently and who might have been talking on the phone, for instance?

Dr. Lisa V. Adams:
Right. I think if you are passing through an airspace, you know, minutes or hours later. Again, our our sense is that the risk is quite low, that you would be contracting the virus in that way. It's again, it's all sort of a risk judgement here. But again, we we don't think that there's very much transmission through aerosolized spread of the virus. So I want that to be reassuring to people that, you know, in general that is not the main way that this virus is transmitted.

Sam Evans-Brown:
So if you're outdoors, the six foot rule is is still a pretty good one.

Dr. Lisa V. Adams:
Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah. When when being outdoors, the six foot rule still holds. And as I said, if you're exercising, you may even want to give a wider berth.

Sam Evans-Brown:
Philip writes in and says, I work for a small land trust. And one thing we're trying to promote is alternative parking areas and access points. Once you're on a trail, it's much easier to maintain safe distances. However, it's hard to get that information to people. We're working on trying out some better maps at our Web site, but who even knows to look there? My recommendation would be to call your local land trust if you want specific ideas. I'm curious, Lisa, what you personally have been doing in order to keep active and and what your personal judgment of risk has been.

Dr. Lisa V. Adams:
Again, I've been there advocating for myself and others to get outside. And I've generally been going on on walks and, you know, sort of gentle hikes. And for me, it's really, my job on the COVID-19 task force is almost 24/7. So I'm often reading e-mails or on the phone when I'm out walking. But I feel like just getting outside for a half hour, maybe even an hour if I can spare a day is, I just feel that that really helps us all recharge. And it's so important. So I think there's a reason why all of the stay at home orders, including the one issued by Governor Sununu, why these stay at home orders expressly allow leaving your home to exercise. Again, I just can't say enough about the importance for our physical and mental health and that we are going to need to pace ourselves through this time.

Sam Evans-Brown:
And one last question, Dr. Adams, which is that the CDC has been said to be re-evaluating its guidance on wearing masks for healthy people while out in public. So your thoughts on the importance of of masks and do you think that we will wind up wearing masks more often when outdoors?

Dr. Lisa V. Adams:
Sure. Well, masks are and when and how to use them are obviously a hot topic right now. And I think that's mostly related to the concerns about right now about them being used in the general public to concerns about their being asymptomatic spread. And, you know, unfortunately, we now have pretty convincing data that covered COVID-19 can be spread through pre-symptomatic transmission. There was a study published just yesterday by the CDC in which researchers in Singapore reviewed 157 patients with COVID-19 who had not traveled. So they were considered locally-acquired cases and they found seven clusters of patients, 10 in total, where they felt that pre-symptomatic transmission had occurred, meaning that those patients were only exposed to another COVID-19 patients before that original patient had symptoms about one to three days before that, the symptom onset. So we know that this can occur. But the good news is that it was a small percentage of patients. This only happened in about 6 percent of cases in that particular study. So I think when we think about wearing masks, we are obviously going to prioritize who should be wearing a mask. And so I know some places are, and the end the guidance on this continues to evolve, I think we're looking at maybe having all health care workers wear a mask even if they feel well because of this asymptomatic spread risk.

Sam Evans-Brown:
So maybe save those masks for the health care workers still.

Dr. Lisa V. Adams:
That's my sense, especially if they're taking care of vulnerable patients. The other thing I will mention is that a bandana can work just as well in terms of preventing you from touching your face. And so I think that that's that's something we can think about. I don't think that masks for the general public are going to be a priority in the in, you know, today or in the near future. But think of it, bandannas can work just as well.

Sam Evans-Brown:
Thank you very much. That's Dr. Lisa Adams, a practicing physician and associate professor of infectious diseases at the International Health Section of the Department Medicine at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth.

Sam Evans-Brown:
When we come back, some ideas about how you can get outside, get some exercise in anticipation of spring, even while keeping your distance from other people. I'm Sam Evans-Brown and we will be right back.

Sam Evans-Brown:
Welcome back to The Exchange. I'm Sam Evans-Brown, host of NHPR's Outside/In, filling in for Laura Knoy. And today, we're talking about how to get outside in the midst of a pandemic. Please reach out to us. We would like to know how you are getting out, but staying solitary. One listener from Epsom, Alex, e-mailed, saying, I'm lucky enough to live within 25 minutes drive of three wonderful state parks. He later writes, These parks are enormous and have plenty of room to maintain proper social separation between parties and lots of remote corners to visit, encourage everyone to look up their local state parks and go exploring. On the other hand, Krista from Deerfield wrote, saying, today on the Deerfield side of Pawtuckaway there were a hundred and eleven cars parked on a three quarters of a mile stretch. She goes on to say, Please help us get it out that the state, please help us get the state parks closed until this is all over. People are hiking in large groups, clustering at trailheads and not practicing social distancing. Our next guests have some ideas about how you can stay safe and sane during this emergency. We're talking with Russell Hirschler, the executive director of the Upper Valley Trails Alliance and one of the lead partners in the Trail Finder Partnership. That's an organization that puts together the Trail Finder Web site. Hi, Russell.

Russell Hirschler:
Hello, Sam. How are you?

Sam Evans-Brown:
I'm great. And we're also talking to Lelia Mellen. She is the New Hampshire projects director for the National Park Service River, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program. Lelia, thanks for being with us. So I'd like to start by asking you both individually how you are recommending that people get outside safely. And Lelia, I'll start with you.

Lelia Mellen:
Ok. So I'm telling people to follow the guidelines as Dr. Adams said very nicely. Stay far apart from each other, six feet at least, and go in small groups like 10 or less people is really great. And also as Dr. Adams said maybe go with the people who you're already living with and in contact with them. Go out, enjoy yourselves, go out for walks, hikes, bike. It is not the time to go do high risk adventures. We don't need to send anybody to the emergency room with a broken bone or a sprained ankle or something. So it's really good to do things you're comfortable with and don't require anybody to come rescue you.

Sam Evans-Brown:
Russell, what about you?

Russell Hirschler:
I'm going to mirror pretty much what Lelia said and also what Dr. Adams said, staying close to home is probably the best thing. We are generally saying try and stick to 10 miles from your home and we'll be able to tell you some ways that you can find that information. And that's Lelia said, also, low risk stuff. This is not the time to get your last bunch of 4000 footers and probably stay close to home is better.

Sam Evans-Brown:
So Lelia. Can you explain what the Trail Finder website is?

Lelia Mellen:
Sure. So its trail finder dot info and it is a website that has curated trails. So that means that we've worked with the land managers and the landowners to have their get their permission to put these trails up on this Web site where you can go find hundreds of trails around the state now that are close to your home. I mean, they're all over the place, but you can find a variety of trails from very easy ones to high impact ones. And variety of uses. It's not just walking, it's biking, mountain biking, etc.. And there's all sorts of options for people to get out and stay close to your house.

Sam Evans-Brown:
So Russell, I have two apps on my phone for finding trails. One is called All Trails, which I feel like is more often used by hikers and walkers. The other is called Trail Folks. Which is very popular among mountain bikers. How is Trail Finder different from those apps?

Russell Hirschler:
That's a great question, Sam. Trail Finder, as Lelia mentioned before, is all travel manager approved information. So everything you find on there from the photos to the trail had directions to the uses are all approved by the trail manager themselves. All Trails is a great place to find basic trail information. Oftentimes, if you bring up a trail that's on Trail Finder, compare it to All Trails, you're going to find more comprehensive information about that trail network on the Trail Finder Web site. Again, because the trail manager has put all of that information up there in partnership with us, Trail Forks is a great place to get current trail conditions. Now, I want to mention that we are in muc season. So normally we would ask people to stay off the trails through typically Mother's Day. We are in extraordinary times hearing as we've been discussing all of us are looking for ways to get outside. So as you're getting outside now, please be respectful of mud season and use the normal precautions that you would if you were hiking on a muddy trail.

Sam Evans-Brown:
I'd like to just put out as a PSA, as someone who has looked at my own local trails on All Trails, occasionally there are trails marked there that are in fact private, but still show up on the app. So just a heads up there. Lelia, you specialize in in water trails. I mean, it's still pretty chilly out there. But what's the thinking currently around exercise and in boats like kayaking or fishing.

Lelia Mellen:
Right. Well, in terms of the coronavirus, those activities are fine. You wouldn't want to congregate. You wouldn't want everybody fishing off of the bridge close to each other. But the trick right now is that it's really early spring. And so while you'll get the whitewater paddlers out, you want to be careful. The water is cold and we don't need to be having that excess risk and necessitating search and rescue to have to come get you. So you can get out. The Connecticut River paddlers trail on their Web site, put out a very nice piece. I think the Northern Forest canoe trip had done the same, talking about stay close to home through short paddling trips.

Lelia Mellen:
This is not the time for your epic adventure that's going to require you to go to multiple grocery stores and get things to stock up. You don't want to be going...paddling often requires shuttling and paddlers are usually very environmentally conscious and try to minimize how many cars are having to go back and forth, up and down the river and people pile into each other's cars. This is not the time to be doing that either. So then the other one is if you wanted to go on a multi-day adventure. The problem right now is the camp sites mostly are not open yet. We've got the spring freshet coming down. So some might still be under water even. And then other than that, then the managers haven't been able to get out there and open them. So it would really be best to wait a bit, mostly for the weather to warm up and then to paddle smartly, change our habits a bit. So you're not going out with big groups and not necessitating shuttles, things like that.

Sam Evans-Brown:
Michael writes in and says, I'm an educator and several of my students have said they're under the impression that it's not safe to go outside to exercise. But I've been telling them that I believe it is and have been doing it every day. My question is, what advice do you have for educators to give to students to encourage them to go outside and stay physically active while still staying safe? Thoughts, Russell, about talking to kids, about how they should get outside.

Russell Hirschler:
Oh, that's a great question. I actually have two young kids at home, and one of the things that's happening is a lot of their remote learning or distance learning that they're doing requires them to at least get outside, take pictures of nature, upload it to their classroom Web sites. That's one great way. Another is just if you have a family member, as we've been talking about, making sure that when you recreate if you're going to recreate with more than one person, try and keep it with your own household. Take a short nature walk. I know that later in your show you're going to be having something about backyard birding. Throw on a pair of binoculars, go outside and see what you can see in the spring migration. I'm actually standing in my bedroom looking out my back door and I've seen about nine different bird species just standing inside. So those are some ways I would recommend to get young folks outside.

Sam Evans-Brown:
Melissa in Merrimack writes says, I'm a runner. I find it very fortunate that I can get outside and run. I have an open area near me where I can walk outside thankfully, however, there are definitely trails that are way too crowded. And it's scary right now to have trails that are that crowded. I wonder how you suggest that folks balance this idea. Obviously, they can go online, they can find trails and explore trails that they've never been on at all. But I can imagine that for local folks, an influx of people from other towns coming to their quiet local spot can be scary.

Russell Hirschler:
Yeah, so I want to mention that Trail Finder has almost 650 trail networks across Vermont and New Hampshire. And there's also a companion Web site in Maine. So for any listeners who are listening from Maine, you can go to Maine Trail Finder dot com and find information about local trails there. I think everyone who heads out to go recreate on a local trail needs to have a plan B and a plan C. So if you're going to your favorite trailhead and you see that there's people standing at the trailhead, perhaps talking, perhaps not adhering to the social distancing rule or the trailhead is just packed with cars. Go to plan B. And then if you go to that one and you see the same thing, go to Plan C. Almost every one of our towns in New Hampshire has conservation lands, has municipal lands that are open for recreation. A lot of those are on our Trail Finder Web site. So I would encourage folks to check that out. And if in your town, you don't see trails on trail finder dot info. Check your town Web site and see what local trails there may be in your own community that you haven't gone to yet.

Sam Evans-Brown:
Lelia, I'm curious how you think about this. How many. Trail cars at a trailhead would you find to be too many for your own personal risk calculus?

Lelia Mellen:
Well, it's it's an interesting question, so depends on what you're talking about. If you're talking about a single track trail where you're going to be running into people, it's going to be different than if you're on an. Trail network that really is actually old logging roads or something because there you could get away from folks. The other thing to maybe consider is , because I'm guilty of this, of going out with people that we are driving. So it's actually people who are in their same social network, but they've driven separately. So there might be less people than you'd think. If that makes sense, just because they're very driven separately, but they are actually a family. So that it's a one group, having heard, though, that some they just had one hundred and ten cars or something, you said earlier from an e-mail. Yeah, that's crazy, right. So. Just we just need to all be smart. And I know in my life for this experience, as Russ said, there's so many small trail networks that usually aren't discovered and known except for for the people who really are local. And that's a beautiful thing that we most of us love having these trails in our backyards, in our towns. And so I would hope that if you can find those gems that other people don't necessarily know about.

Sam Evans-Brown:
I'm wondering if part of this, too, is developing a new set of norms for what you do when you encounter another group on a trail. That maybe you folks should just be extra conscientious about making sure there's plenty of space for passing. Have had have either of you noticed those types of norm started sort of developing organically out there? Go ahead. Lelia, Why don't you take that?

Lelia Mellen:
I definitely have. And I have to say, sort of because it's mud season I have not been going on the single track trails. I've been more on the old roads in the classics, roads or something even. And we people are kind of staying to either side of it. Passing, saying Hello, politely and just moving on.

Sam Evans-Brown:
Russell, you were going to say something?

Russell Hirschler:
I've noticed the same thing on any kind of trails that I've hiked on, but I'm also noticing it on the road when people are running or cycling on their own streets. They're stopping. They're chatting, but they're being six to twelve feet away from each other across the street. So I definitely think it's happening organically as we're moving through this.

Sam Evans-Brown:
I've certainly noticed that when when two groups pass each other, there's a tendency for one to step fairly far off the trail, to allow another to go by if the trail is fairly narrow. So Tim from Mt. Vernon is on the line. Tim, do you have a question for or a comment to say here on the air?

Caller:
Good morning and thanks for taking my call. I'm kind of going to reiterate what was said earlier. Mont Vernon is a little tiny town and we have a place right next door in Lyndeborough, a trailhead where there were like 75 cars there last weekend. And it was it was, you know, went viral with photographs of the road. And the cops had to come in. People's driveways were blocked in and it was just insane. Yet one mile away, there is a Mont Vernon conservation trailhead and there was one vehicle there accessing three miles of trails. So what I will say to your audience is what's been said before. Maybe stay away from the place at Purgatory Falls with the 75 cars is well-documented, used on all the trail seeking apps and and and stuff like that. Whereas what I would recommend is that people either within their own town or a town they feel like visiting, they go to the town website like somebody just said and go to the Conservation Commission. It's usually the Conservation Commission that that maintains any trails on town owned property. And you can find some wonderful e-mails just in Mont Vernon alone, which is a tiny little town of less less than 2000 people. And we have miles and miles of trails. And I don't want you all rushing up here from Massachusetts, but we have plenty of room where anybody's going to looking on their phones are are safe.

Sam Evans-Brown:
Unclear how many messages people are listening, but a PSA that they, too, should have a plan A, a plan B and a plan C. Trixie from Londonderry is on the line. Trixie, what's your question or comment?

Caller:
Well, my question is, if we're talking about recreation today and I am a horse owner and exercising horses as a state veterinarian has said, yes, important to the motility of the horse's stomach. And there are some areas like sticking within a 10 mile guideline. Is it something that, you know, horseback rider out on the trail? Is that acceptable? Is it something that people can consider doing?We horse owners can consider doing?

Sam Evans-Brown:
Russell, Lelia. I wonder if you have any thoughts about that, about how obviously life is more complicated if you if you were a horse owner. Any thoughts from either of you?

Russell Hirschler:
I'm happy to jump in on that first. The first thing I would say is, again, this is mud season. So if you're taking your horses out in the woods, just be aware of that because horses during mud season can create a lot of damage. And we're we're open to all recreational uses. Horse and equestrian riders have a different set of issues that they're dealing with. Their trails are usually different. They need larger trailhead parking areas so that they can turn their horse trailers around. So that will be somewhat limiting as well. But there is a general trail etiquette for equestrian users and how they interact with mountain bikers and hikers. So that information is actually on our Web site at U.V. Trails.org, which is one of the partner organizations for Trail Finder. So to encourage anyone who's curious about how to recreate with equestrian riders to check out that etiquette document that we have on our Web site. And yes, I would say equestrian riders, when you can get outside again, be aware of social distancing. And like I said, there's only a certain number of places where equestrian riders can get their trailers to turn around.

Sam Evans-Brown:
So Russell, unfortunately, I think we've got to let we've got to let you go. Russell, Lelia, thanks so much for being with us. Russell Hirschler is the executive director of the Upper Valley Trails Alliance. And Lelia Mellen is the project director for the National Park Service, Rive Trails and Conservation Assistance Program here in New Hampshire. Coming up after a break, we're going to talk about a activity that it can be very low risk indeed. Backyard birding. We'll be right back.

Sam Evans-Brown:
This is The Exchange on New Hampshire Public Radio. I'm Sam Evans-Brown, host of NHPR's Outside/In filling in for Laura Knoy. But today, getting outside safely ways that you can be in nature. But stay close to home.

Sam Evans-Brown:
You of course can work on your garden. You might have a window box or planter. There's plenty of things that you can do in your backyard to work on social distancing. But have you considered backyard bird watching? We're speaking now with Eric Masterson, who, when not fielding questions about birds, has been bicycling the migration route of the broad winged hawk from New Hampshire to Panama a couple of years ago. Eric coordinates the Land Protection and stewardship activities at the Harris Center for Conservation in Hancock. Eric, thanks for being with us.

Eric Masterson:
My pleasure. Thank you for doing this program. It's a really important topic.

Sam Evans-Brown:
So, Eric, how has the Harris Center adapted to this new age? Do you have materials that you'd recommend that folks trying to learn to appreciate the nature in their backyard might avail themselves of?

Eric Masterson:
Well, it's a challenge for all organizations like the Harris Center. We're geared towards working outside. And so to transition all of that material online in the space of a couple of weeks is is an immense challenge. But we are doing a couple of things. I'll speak a little bit about bird migration, because one of the great ironies of the moment is that while we're all being asked to restrict our movement to, you know, we can measure it in feet, meters, miles, but we're told not to move at the same time. One of the greatest mass migrations the world has ever known is happening. And it's just a remarkable phenomena. Of course, I'm talking about bird migration. And there's a tendency when we think of that, to think it's happening at someone else's, you know, at a refuge or in another country or someone else's fantastic backyard. But it's happening everywhere, right over each and every one of our houses. And I can tell you this because I've been studying backyard nocturnal migration from my backyard for the last five years. And I literally have to walk five steps out onto my deck. And I set up a recorder and I record the call notes of the birds that are migrating over. And I'm charting this on it on a blog at the Harris Center.

Eric Masterson:
Just go to the Harris Center dot org and there's a tab. There are other things to do. And you can see some of the other activities that we're trying to get online for folks to do. But that's one that I'm particularly excited about, because right now there's not we're at the very early stages of migration. In May, in late April and May, it's really going to kick off and so now is a fantastic time to get involved with it because you don't get swamped in May. There'll be 40, 50, 60 new birds singing and it can be very confusing to get involved in May. But if you start out now, just as the birds trickle in, sap suckers will be coming back in about a week. Some of the sparrows are starting to arrive now. Barn swallows will be arriving mid April and then towards the end of April, a lot more neo-tropical migrants. And so now is a terrific time to learn birdsong. While there isn't so many birds singing and it's just it so it's a wonderful, wonderful time to get out and experience that phenomena.

Sam Evans-Brown:
So, Eric, I know this isn't your personal area of expertise, but there's another migration that at least has kicked off here in southern New Hampshire, which is that amphibians are are on the move. Can you tell us briefly about big night?

Eric Masterson:
Yeah, well, Bret Taylor at the Harris Center is the person who coordinates that. I can tell you that we're very concerned that we don't want to be sending people out, too. We run a program to safely cross amphibians on roads during during big migration nights. And we really have shut that down this year because we don't want people going out without training because it's, you know, you're on busy roads. And secondly, we don't want to encourage people to be gathering in groups, because if you know, if you have a really cool salamander, everyone gathers around to look at it. And it's just not good practice at the moment. So we're not encouraging that. But yes. Solomon, migration will be happening through throughout the month on, you know, warm days, over 40 degrees with with wet, you know, warm, warm, wet nights where the temperatures over 40 degrees.

Sam Evans-Brown:
And I would just say personally, if you're looking for something to do with kids heading out to the nearest vernal pool, walking out your backyard and checking out some frog egg masses is not a bad way to go. But back to bird-watching. We got an e-mail from James who says, I'm writing about backyard birding. I love birds and I'm terrible at identifying them. I want to get better and I don't have a good field guide. Can you recombined recommend an online resource and maybe a physical field guide to for the next time I can get to a bookstore?

Eric Masterson:
Yeah, there's a whole bunch of them out there, my personal favorite would be the Sibley Guide, and you can get that as an app also. And so as an app, it has the advantage of having bird sound, which you can't obviously reproduce in a paper field guide. So that's a good field guide. The Peterson Field Guide is also excellent. The Stokes Field Guide. There is quite a number of them out there. I again, I recommend now in terms of easing the burden on yourself, because I find this with other things, you know, with astronomy, which is not a strong suit of mine, even wildflowers, it can be daunting. And so to get, if someone could point me to a field where there were only a few wildflowers, that would be a really attractive proposition for me, learning wildflowers, because, you know, I wouldn't be deluged by it, by options. And so similarly, now is a really great time to start right now. The only songster is now purple finch. Brown creeper. Winter wrens. A few birds singing. Now, in a month's time, it's gonna be much more difficult proposition. So learn those birds now. And so on. May comes around. You'll be an expert on those ones.

Sam Evans-Brown:
I'm curious if if you have kids and are thinking that that birding might be a good way to get them out of the house. Inject some novelty into their life apart from just handing them a pair of binoculars and pushing them out the door. How do you how do you recommend getting kids involved in this activity?

Eric Masterson:
So a birdfeeder is a fantastic way to go because one of the challenges for kids will be to, you know, kids will have difficulty using binoculars. And so one of the challenges with bird-watching is that very often they're hard to see. They can be obtrusive, they can be sorry, unobtrusive and buried in a marsh or distant. And so that's a challenge. So bringing them close helps to engage kids. So a bird feeder is a terrific way to do that. Building bird houses is a great way to get kids interacting with with birds and their ecology and their habitat needs. And so there's a whole suite of birds that you can attract to nest in your in your yards depending on what sort of habitat you have. But you can put up a simple shelf under a soffit for phoebes or for robins. You can build a cavity birdhouse like a for chickidees or bluebirds, even barred owls, wood ducks. If you've got a marsh nearby, there's a whole lot you can do. And now is a great time to be putting up birdhouses.

Sam Evans-Brown:
I'm curious, when it comes to setting up a bird feeder. Are there other sort of best practices when it comes to both your viewing pleasure, but also the health and safety of birds?

Eric Masterson:
Yes, absolutely. So you want to be very cognizant of the opportunity for birds to fly into windows. Window strikes are one of the great killers of birds. Windows that are particularly problematic are ones where a bird can see right through the house or reflective windows that reflect back the outside. So if you stand outside your house and look at a window and you find out you're looking at the forest because you see a reflection of a forest, then that's the sort of window that a bird is going to have problems with. So keep away from windows like that. Be aware that we're in bear season now. So take the feeders in. I'm probably going to be getting myself in trouble with Fish and Game right now because Fish and Game probably have an advisory not to be feeding birds right now, but these are extraordinary times. So definitely if you have bear issues, don't feed the birds. If there are bears in your area and they're problematic because you're going to be getting the bears into trouble. And no one's no one wants to do that. No, no one wants to create a problem, bear. So take the bird feeders in at night. If you do have bear issues cease feeding until until that ceases to be an issue. So perhaps they start with the backyard birds.

Sam Evans-Brown:
Then if this wears on, we can progress to a bird feeder. And I will say I was out in the woods not too long ago and was seeing actually a lot of bear tracks.So indeed, they're up and they are up and about.

Eric Masterson:
They're definitely out. There are several reports of them out already. So I encourage everyone to be very cognizant of that.

Sam Evans-Brown:
So I'm curious, Eric, you personally have a lot of interesting projects going on in your bird life. Can you just tell us about what you've got that you're finding interesting in this time of hanging out at home?

Eric Masterson:
Yeah, I'm really into the nocturnal migration, so that's a huge passion of mine. And I run a blog at the Harris Center. So just Google Harris Center bird migration. It'll take you straight to it. You know, the broad wing hawk project you mentioned, that had led me into a hang gliding life, which is on hold now. I know everyone's being very careful not to burden the health care system. And so I don't think dangerous sports are a wise choice right now. But I'd say right now the thing that's that's most exciting for me is this nocturnal bird migration study that I'm doing.

Sam Evans-Brown:
Eric, I'm curious for spring migration, are there certain trends that you're noticing that that folks who are either just getting into birding or have been doing it for a while should have their eye on? What in particular have you been seeing?

Eric Masterson:
Well, I mean, there's lots of trends. I mean, the most obvious one. I just posted this morning about I'm kind of trying to avoid the news because it's so depressing and I've had enough of coronavirus graphs. And so a real trend that we're going to be seeing now is the increasing biodiversity of birds. And so there's a bell curve of migration. And we're at the left hand side of the you know, we're just starting out on it. And in mid-May, it's going to peak. And so that's a trend of increasing abundance. And that's a wonderful thing. And I'll be charting progress of that. There's, you know, some birds are becoming more abundant. It's not all about news story, but we're some birds are definitely becoming less abundant. Grassland birds that breed in grassland. And so if you have a large expanse of grassland that you manage 10 acres, 20 acres, that's something to be aware of in terms of how you manage it. It will have real world consequences for birds like bobolinks and eastern meadowlarks, grasshopper sparrows, things like that, cavity nesters. If you have a very clean forest that you take down all the snags, then you're going to have left less cavities for things like bluebirds and barred owls and, great question, fly catchers and so that's where you can help by, well, ideally, don't be cleaning your forest lately. A messy forest is better for birds. But then birdhouses will help, too. And also, if I could ask folks to redefine the concept of a perfect lawn. I think for so often we've considered the perfect lawn to be a green expanse with no weeds. And I would argue that the perfect lawn is a messy, weedy lawn. No pesticides. And the the great arbiters of a perfect lawn are birds. If you have lots of birds on your lawn, no matter what it looks like, you have the perfect lawn if you have a greensward with no weeds. I'm pretty sure you don't have many birds on it too. So redefine what you think of as perfection.

Sam Evans-Brown:
Eric, you mentioned that we are on the left side of the bell curve. So if folks are looking to track the the birds as they come through. What are the species that are here now and what will be coming through soon?

Eric Masterson:
So tree swallows are an early migrant. So our tree swallows are already back and they don't all come on the same day, they come over several weeks. So the earliest tree swallows are back. Phoebes, the earliest phoebes are back, like I said. Within the next week to 10 days, our sap suckers will be coming back. Many of our sparrows are starting to come back now. They don't rely on insects to the same degree that other neo-tropical migrants do, and so they can subsist on some of the seeds that are left over. Barn swallows will be here mid-month. Towards the end of the month thrushes will be coming back, the first warblers. And so it's really a fascinating thing. What a time to be stuck at home. I wish we weren't. But if you were to be stuck at home and wanting to learn about the wonderful world of birds and bird migration, this is just a perfect time to be doing it.

Sam Evans-Brown:
So that's your your public service announcement, folks. You do not have to go far to appreciate nature. I want to thank our guests for being on the program today, of course, those who we've already said goodbye to.But Eric Masterson is with us from the Harris Center for Conservation and the author of the blog A Kettle of One and Night Songs. Eric, thanks for being with us. I'm Sam Evans-Brown. Thanks so much for listening.