If you plan to hit the hiking trails, we have tips for staying safe, even in the great outdoors.

PHOENIX (3TV/CBS5) -- Plenty of people have been trying to beat cabin fever by going outside this past week. But is it possible to have too many people on the trails?

Hikers flock to Arizona parks

Hikers flocked to Arizona parks over the weekend.

Parks and lakes in Arizona were crowded again Sunday, as health officials urge us all to practice social distancing.

"There are a lot of health benefits to being outdoors, and in particular, in the current environment where a lot of people are under a lot of stress," says Matt Wynia, Director of the Center for Bioethics and Humanities at the University of Colorado. "But what we're calling social distancing, really, is more physical distancing."

Six feet. That's the minimum physical distance the CDC is asking us to keep. That's not easy on a lot of hiking trails, which seem to be getting busier by the day. Officials suggest finding trails that are less likely to see a crowd, and ones with more space to pass other hikers. You're also encouraged to hike only with the group of people you live with.

"If you look at our county parks and our county trails system, we have more than 500 miles of trails," says Maricopa County Parks & Recreation Director R.J. Cardin. "So, there are opportunities for people to keep their social distance and still get that, I call it 'the nature fix.'"

City, county and state parks all say the visitor traffic recently has been higher than usual, even during a normally busy month.

One visitor to North Mountain Park in Phoenix, Jesse Milioto, said, "It feels refreshing. I mean, I'm not an avid hiker, but let me tell you, I'm picking this up as a hobby as far as quarantine is concerned."

Wynia says, "Physical distance is not the same as social isolation. We want people to maintain their social connections. So, getting out and walking around the neighborhood, going for a hike - these are all valuable things, and we don't want to curtail those. We are all in this together right now, and we need to maintain a sense of social cohesion - while maintaining physical distance."

In addition to keeping that distance, officials are asking visitors to stay home if you are sick, to wash your hands frequently and to warn other trails users of your presence as you pass.

Most parks have shut down visitor centers and nature areas, as well as bathrooms and water fountains, in an effort to prevent gatherings of people. But there are no plans in place to actually shut down the parks right now.

Cardin says, "Right now I'm not seeing a scenario where the parks would shut down. Certainly if it becomes an issue of public safety then we would follow whatever guidance the governor may have, the county board of supervisors may have. But for right now, we think it's important for people to be able to get out."

Michelle Thompson, of Arizona State Parks & Trails, when asked about a scenario where parks would close, said, "It's really hard to say. We do just follow what comes down from health services, from Governor Ducey, from the CDC. We're just listening to that. It's our goal to be able to serve the public, and keep those spaces open."

Thompson added that while national parks have waived entrance fees, "Arizona State Parks and trails self-supports. So every time you come in and you pay that fee, you're paying a ranger's salary, you're paying to keep those bathrooms clean, the trails maintained, the litter picked up, the campgrounds taken care of. So it's all just going right back into the system, and if we do waive those fees that causes more stress on the system and more stress on the rangers who are doing such a great job out there taking care of these visitors every day."


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