Outdoor Realizations and Realities in the Coronavirus Era

Vanishing Paradise Outreach Coordinators, Erin Brown Willhoft and Bill Cooksey, share their thoughts on social distancing in the great outdoors.

“I go into nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.” — John Burroughs

Latendresse Media Collective for VP

Thoughts from Erin Brown Willhoft:

Hello fellow outdoors lovers,

As Covid-19 is striking across the United States, our thoughts and prayers are with anyone affected by this illness. Being in New Orleans is particularly frightening as we are seeing spread across the metro area at a rate that is higher, per capita, than anywhere else in the world. So as our National Wildlife Federation offices are closed for the time being and our staff transitions to our new normal of working remotely, many of us are also under an official “stay at home” order – like many of you are, I’m sure.

But sunshine is often the best medicine, and even in trying times like these, I have realized just how much I take my “Sportsman’s Paradise” for granted. I have always had a sense of pride being from coastal Louisiana- a love for our outdoors, cuisine and culture. Now as our restaurants are only available for curbside delivery, and Bourbon and Frenchmen Streets are eerily silent, I have grabbed my fishing pole and turned to what I have in my backyard for some sunshine in my life.  

In the past week and a half, I have used the beauty of south Louisiana’s landscape as my escape. Turning off the TV, muting my phone notifications and focusing on the outdoors has proven to reduce the stress and anxiety from the unknown that is hard to avoid right now. In south Louisiana, we have been fortunate to have impeccable weather with sunny skies and moderate temperatures. In a time where our lives are often consumed by technology, it is refreshing to see so many people reconnecting with the outdoors as an outlet. With retail outlets, libraries, theatres and more shut down, I am seeing families out and about running, riding their bikes, playing with their dogs, gardening, or fishing. 

My personal escape has been with my dog and my husband fishing the marshes for largemouth bass, redfish, and speckled trout, gigging for frogs into the early morning hours, and even setting out crab traps in the lake behind my house. We have been fortunate to stay safe while still harvesting the bounty of our natural resources and doing what we love. 

I have the greatest appreciation for where I live. It has provided so many opportunities in the past, but more so than ever now. Louisiana is a vibrant and bountiful place, and something we must protect for our future generations. 

I encourage all of you to reconnect and find your passion with the outdoors, of course, all while following the CDC guidelines and practicing social distancing. Check your local areas, but most boat launches, nature trails, parks, and reserves have remained open. Go cast a line or toss a net. It may add a little much-needed sunshine in your life and help us get through these unprecedented times.

Thoughts from Bill Cooksey:

Hello fellow sportsmen,

A few days ago this seemed like a fun, and easy, blog idea. We proposed that Erin could focus on fishing in Louisiana right now, and I could talk about turkey hunting and fishing opportunities in other areas. Well, like seemingly everything lately, our focus has evolved. 

The original premise that getting outside to hunt or fish is good for you is still as important as ever, but it requires a little more thought. Where I live in Tennessee, every public launch ramp and all hunting areas remain open, and it sounds from Erin like our Louisiana readers share that good fortune, but not everyone is so lucky. While preparing for this blog rumors began popping up of closures at launch ramps, parks, campgrounds and even public hunting areas, so I turned to social media in hopes I could verify one way or the other. Let’s face it, when you want to reach a lot of people in a lot of areas, social media is an asset, and it didn’t let me down. 

Previous image of ramp by Joel Lucks for VP

First in was Miami-Dade and Palm Beach ordering a shutdown of boat ramps and marinas. While marinas sometimes cause folks to congregate a bit, it would take some serious effort to get within six feet of a stranger while launching a boat. With that question in mind, I called Travis Thompson of Cast & Blast Florida to get the story. “Like always, a few rotten apples spoil it for everyone,” was the beginning of his answer. “See, this is sandbar season down here, and some folks didn’t quite grasp the fact the social distancing guidelines don’t end when you leave the shore. The only way to slow it down was to limit access in drastic fashion, and the shutdowns are expanding all along the coast.”

Due to time limitations we could only verify a few of the reports received on Facebook, but they included all state property in Illinois and several campgrounds and launches in Mississippi. I got a report of both the north and south state parks on Toledo Bend being closed along with closures of any U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lake access with a restroom. I even heard a rumor several Wildlife Management Areas may close because inconsiderate folks were using them as party headquarters due to water access being limited…really?

In other words, there’s a lot shutting down, but most of the closures are limited to areas where people do end up close together. Other than those closed to quell a party, most of it is limited to campgrounds, restrooms and marinas where it’s difficult to not get close to others.

In closing, get outdoors, use nature as an outlet during these difficult times, but call first to make sure your local areas are open…and keep your distance.