Valley residents hitting area trails to combat cabin fever

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  • Sarah Gokey and Mino Caulton of Leeds talk about cycling as a way to get outside and stay active during the COVID-19 pandemic. They’re seen at Elwell State Park in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Brant Jones of Northampton says he needs to get outside every day of late, given COVID-19 restrictions. He and his daughters, Piper, center, 9, and Winnie, 11, are seen at Elwell State Park in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Northampton High School seniors Lucia Dostal, left, and Willa Sippel and junior Vivian Kaufman, right, enjoy a moment on a recent sunny day at Look Park. They’re trying to stay active with schools shut down. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Bill Gerry of Northampton gets some of his daily 10,000 steps in while crossing the Connecticut River on the Norwottuck Rail Trail. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Bill Gerry of Northampton pauses along the Connecticut River bridge on the Norwottuck Rail Trail. He has an app on his phone to track his goal of making 10,000 steps each day. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Bill Gerry of Northampton pauses along the Connecticut River bridge on the Norwottuck Rail Trail. He has an app on his phone to track his goal of making 10,000 steps each day. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Northampton High School seniors Lucia Dostal, left, and Willa Sippel and junior Vivian Kaufman, right, enjoy a moment on a recent sunny day at Look Park. They’re trying to stay active with schools shut down. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Many couples were seen holding hands at Look Memorial Park in Florence as temperatures climbed into the fifties last Friday afternoon. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Northampton High School junior Vivian Kaufman, center, looks back at seniors Lucia Dostal, left, and Willa Sippel during their recent ride through Look Park. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Many couples were seen holding hands in Look Park as temperatures climbed into the fifties last Friday afternoon. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 3/31/2020 9:46:48 AM

NORTHAMPTON – The way Brant Jones sees it, it’s pretty essential that he get outside at least once every day amid the COVID-19 outbreak — just as it’s essential his daughters, Winnie, 11, and Piper, 9, get outdoors, too.

“We all need it,” Jones said on a recent Friday afternoon as he and his girls walked around Elwell State Park in Northampton, along the Connecticut River by the Norwottuck Rail Trail, after riding their bicycles there. He’s a math teacher at Northampton High School, his daughters go to Bridge Street Elementary, and with all classes shut down, both he and his wife are now home full time with their girls.

Jones said that kind of close confinement — he works with his students online and his daughters do some online learning and activities as well — means cabin fever has to be kept at bay. “It’s pretty vital for my wife and I that (their daughters) get out every day,” he said with a laugh. 

Other Valley residents also appear to be looking for escape and relative safety outdoors. Some popular hiking trails have been seeing heavy use, and families and bicyclists have been hitting the Northampton and Norwottuck rail trails on less-than-ideal days in terms of the weather.

On Saturday, March 28, an overcast day that gave way to rain in the afternoon, a Gazette reporter at about 1 p.m. counted over 35 cars near the main entrance to the Fitzgerald Lake Conservation Area in Florence. Wayne Feiden, Northampton’s director of planning and sustainability, said he had heard reports of over 50 cars there on another recent weekend day.

“It’s great that so many people are getting outside,” he said. “It’s one of the few normal things we can do in an abnormal time.” 

But Feiden encourages people to check out some of the other city’s other trails so that some areas don’t get overcrowded, making it difficult to maintain social distancing (information is available at northampton.gov/1427/Conservation-Maps).

Also at Elwell Park last Friday were Mino Caulton and Sarah Gokey, who had bicycled out from Leeds and were taking a break. Gokey, an experienced bicyclist, had bought one recently for Caulton so that they could ride together. “I’m still getting used to it,” Caulton said.

Getting outside is imperative for both, as they’re active people who enjoy sports and hiking. Both have recently lost jobs, at least for awhile, due to the pandemic: Caulton a retail job at the Holyoke Mall and his coaching position for youth soccer, and Gokey as a barista in Northampton.

“This is a tough time for us, just as it is for everybody,” said Gokey. “That makes getting outside pretty important, just for peace of mind.”

They’ve had to pick their spots, though. They recently went to Mount Holyoke Range State Park for a hike, then opted not to stay when they counted an estimated 100 cars at the visitors’ center on Route 116 and in a nearby parking lot. On another hike on those same trails, Caulton said he was careful not to grasp certain trees used as handholds by many hikers along steep sections.

In fact, the Appalachian Mountain Club recently announced the temporary closure of some of its trails and other properties because of overuse, saying on its website that some sites “have recently been overrun with visitors, defeating the purpose of social distancing protocols meant to minimize coronavirus-related health risks.”

Brant Jones noted that he and his family have been out for a few hikes with friends and are conscious of the need to keep six feet or more apart, and are also aware that at some point “we’re probably going to breach those limits,” especially with kids involved. 

Nationally, there have also been reports of communities near U.S. national parks reacting with alarm to a surge in visitation. The Washington Post says towns outside some national parks in Utah and Colorado have closed down campgrounds and motels to all non-residents. People with second homes in other parts of the country also have been urged to stay away — or return to their first homes.

On Friday, three high school students and friends — Lucia Dostal, Vivian Kaufman and Willa Sippel — were bicycling in Look Park in Florence, making sure they stayed several feet apart. All three are taking their classes online right now and are otherwise stuck at home.

“We have to get outside,” said Kaufman, who noted all three live pretty close together. “We went out for a walk at 10 o’clock the other night just to stretch our legs.”

With all their other activities shut down, from playing on NHS’s Ultimate Frisbee team to taking part in school plays, bike rides and hikes are about their only outlet at the moment, Sippel says. She also noted that her father, who teaches at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School, and her mother and brother are all home right now “so it can feel a little crowded.”

And Bill Gerry of Northampton, who was out walking on the Norwottuck Rail Trail, has another reason to be outside. He said he had been riding a stationary bike at the Northampton YMCA to get “10,000 steps” — about the equivalent of four miles — completed every day. But with the Y now shut down, he said, “I gotta get those steps in another way.”

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   




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