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Take The Trail Less Traveled—Recreate Responsibly

Spending time outdoors proved to be powerful medicine for more people than ever in 2020. The unlikely and unwelcome motivator was the COVID-19 pandemic that impacted every aspect of our lives. Many people quickly sought ways to counterbalance the stress (and a bad case of stir crazy) associated with new and eye-opening challenges. People needed natural places to restore, to breathe, to be outside of their houses—they needed a dose of nature. Social distancing was the recommendation, not nature distancing.

With the increased desire to be outdoors came the importance of having natural areas to recreate. Well-known preserves and trails saw an uptick in visitation. Landmark Conservancy, a nonprofit land trust that works with partners to protect natural areas in northwest Wisconsin, had several places to send people looking to get outside. With headquarters in Menomonie, our supporters have made it possible for us to protect and provide public access to over 80 properties across 20 counties. We developed an interactive map on our website to help people navigate to numerous places, ranging from well-known destinations like the Devil’s Punchbowl (Dunn County) and Houghton Falls (Bayfield County), to lesser-known places like Tyler Forks Community Forest (590 acres adjacent to Copper Falls State Park), fishing corridors, boat launches, and more.

Landmark also joined the Recreate Responsibly Coalition. This Coalition is made up of almost 1,500 members—from retailers and manufacturers, to state and federal agencies, and nonprofits. Originally convened to develop guidelines for safe and responsible recreation during the pandemic, the Coalition now serves to advance all aspects of responsible recreation. The guideline Practice Physical Distancing might evolve from meaning six-foot spacing to choosing less-visited outdoor destinations. This choice can be profound when considering the lackluster experience of overcrowded trails, or the impact of overuse on natural resources.

Even while taking the trail less traveled, there are still more people outside than ever. It’s our responsibility to Build an Inclusive Outdoors. These guidelines aren’t innate—we are all still learning. Some people may be seasoned outdoor enthusiasts, while others may be accessing the outdoors for the first time. Hiking, biking, or running might come to mind when you think of outdoor recreation. But these aren’t the only options! Recreation can also be walking, bird watching, making art outside, or enjoying a picnic with your favorite local foods from the co-op.

As summer approaches and the world continues to evolve, let’s all recreate responsibly. We are an important part of our world and have a shared responsibility to ourselves, each other, and to the places we recreate. We can all help keep it safe and welcoming, and we can protect it for future generations too. I hope you consider exploring some less-visited destinations for your next outdoor adventure! If you would like to learn more about Landmark’s mission to conserve Wisconsin’s natural legacy for everyone…forever, visit our website at landmarkwi.org.

Landmark Conservancy is a nonprofit land trust that has protected over 38,000 acres in 20 counties across northwest Wisconsin. The organization works with both landowners and partners to permanently protect natural resources. Landmark’s focus regarding new land protection includes areas identified as ecologically important and resilient to climate change, recreational areas, and other lands with important conservation values.

This article was originally published in the May/June 2021 issue of our bi-monthly newsletter, The Morsel. If you’d like to read more stories like this one and stay up to date on the latest co-op news and events, pick up a print copy in-store on your next grocery run or find more news on our website here.

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