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Summer comes, and we move outdoors, just stay safe

After weeks of being cooped up, the sunshine and warm temperatures are drawing people outside, not only locally, but all across the country as beaches, trails, and parks re-open.
Perhaps at no time in memory has there been such a pent-up urge to enjoy the simple, slow-paced joys of the summer season, especially for those who have been confined to tight quarters for so long.
The COVID-19 lockdown is lifting in many parts of the country, especially in states that are dependent on tourism.
The pandemic, aside from the grave fears and eminent health dangers, forced society to slow down and gain a deeper appreciation for family, friends and living in the moment. There are also signs that our obsession with digital devices may have reached the tipping point.
Though we have never been more reliant on computers and smartphones for socializing, working, learning and staying informed through these tough months, an awareness of the need to recalibrate our relationship with technology and artificial social interaction is emerging. We must have smart phones to socialize. We must have a computer to “attend church” on Sunday. We must have a computer if we are to work from home and get homework…and we must have a smart phone or computer if we are to keep our doctor’s visit as telemedicine has emerged during the pandemic.
However, there is a reality that is beginning to sink in as society emerges from a shared experience that will leave many with a redefined appreciation for the real purpose and meaning of life.
Last weekend saw many out on the Watauga River, kayaking, canoeing and rafting. And, the hikers were out as were bicyclists on the Tweetsie Trail and the Elizabethton Linear Trail. It evoked both sadness and excitement. Some were disheartened to see so many people on the mountain trails and perhaps not taking care of the environment as they should.
But, the great outdoors cannot only be fun, but profitable as it brings people to our community, who will spend money at our restaurants, should they ever open. So many of our restaurants are still closed to indoor dining.
It’s easy to take for granted what’s in your own backyard, and our two state parks are a reminder of the beauty of the different seasons while offering ample amenities that make exploration easy any time of year. Once you visit, you’ll want to return again and again to cherish the scenery and create many more memories with your family.
Whether it’s a family picnic, a group hike, bird watching, or simply a calm walk listening to the sounds of nature, there are many activities to explore at Roan Mountain and Sycamore Shoals State Parks.
And while the urge to get outside and enjoy the warmer weather is encouraged as a way to combat the monotony of long periods indoors, the need to keep our distance remains imperative.
The warm weekend also brought families to local parks to enjoy walking, hiking and running, an alarming lack of adherence to the oft-issued reminder to keep your distance.
Some parents allowed children to use playground equipment that could potentially have been used by someone infected with the COVID-19 virus. Young people were gathered on the basketball courts, eager for some physical activity, but in far too close proximity to one another.
As much as everyone would like to believe that warmer weather will kill off the virus and allow life to return to some sense of normalcy, there is no scientific or medical evidence to support that hope.
We want park users to get out and enjoy the trails and open spaces, but maintain physical safe distancing of 6 feet at all times.
It’s a reasonable request and small price to pay in the battle to defeat the coronavirus pandemic. Get outside when you can, enjoy the parks and your neighborhood, walk, run or bike to engage in some physical activity. Feel the sun, listen to the sounds of nature, run, walk, bike, walk the dog, sit by the water, enjoy social interaction to the extent the easing restrictions will allow. Just maintain your distance to keep yourself, family and friends safe. Distancing will still determine how well the virus will be held in check.