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Watercress grows in a trout stream in southeast Minnesota. State guidance for recreational activities in Minnesota was released this week that takes into account public health recommendations balanced with the need for people to get out and recreate.

The COVID19 pandemic continues to dominate daily American life with no one unaffected.

Government leaders have adopted “Stay at Home” measures through peacetime emergency declarations. Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz issued Minnesota’s “Stay at Home” executive order that took effect on March 27. While the first order was set to expire on April 10, it has been extended until May 4.

Walz’s orders have spelled out essential and nonessential industries across the state. Minnesota’s Department of Employment and Economic Development estimates that 78% of jobs in Minnesota are still working during the order. For the 22% without work and income, it’s a tough pill to swallow.

Day by day, changes to Minnesota executive actions provide more details of what is being suggested for Minnesotans, as well as loosening some restrictions. This week included a couple of updates, helping an estimated 100,000 more workers get back to work for certain sections of the economy, opening resorts to guests with some guidance, and clarifying recommendations for outdoor recreation.

Outdoor enthusiasts were pleased to see outdoor recreation included as an exempted activity in the original “Stay at Home” executive order. Executive order 20-38, titled “Allowing for Safe Recreation,” was released this week to spell out more of what is recommended, as well as providing some guidelines for outdoor recreation.

In line with the executive order, and according to the Department of Natural Resource’s COVID19 page, anyone taking time for recreation outdoors is encouraged to stay close to home in order avoid unnecessary travel. Everyone should adhere to social distancing guidelines, staying no closer together than six feet.

Recreation should be done with members of your own immediate household; keep this in mind when occupying off-highway vehicles, watercraft or when carpooling.

Take special care to maintain distances in high traffic concentration areas, like public accesses, trailheads, parking areas, fueling stations and overlooks. Avoid peak times at these locations. Stay home if you are sick or not feeling well. Wear a mask when in public.

For anglers, give other anglers and boats some space and acknowledge others’ space; “first come, first served” comes to mind.

Plan ahead. Pack your food from home to avoid stopping for meals or snacks and make fuel stops brief. Sanitize or wash your hands after touching any common public surfaces like credit card machines, door handles or gas pumps. A box of disposable gloves may come in handy.

Bait shops and bait trappers were approved as essential services as Minnesotans count down to the fishing opener in less than 2 weeks. Docks and marinas are opening. Shooting ranges are open. Resort owners, those who wish to open, can do so to the general public provided they close communal areas.

Those hit hardest in the outdoor sector are the guides. Friends and acquaintances of mine in northern Minnesota who have sacrificed for years to transition completely to full-time fishing guides are especially stung right now.

Most of them were shut out by the Small Business Administration payroll protection and other loan programs. These are people already running on tight margins, making their living in the recreational angling and hospitality business that have seen their business fall out completely in just two months.

Deemed non-essential, they are watching their businesses melt before their eyes. Some may not come back, whenever they are allowed to return to work.

The gradual easing of state restrictions is part of the tradeoff of trying to re-open the economy while protecting societal health. Without question, there are mixed messages, in current orders and all the way back to mid-March when the pandemic was announced and county boards and resorts and small businesses clashed about wanting recreational tourists or not. Those arguments aren’t going away.

These are challenging times for leaders and governance. Personally, I’ll make the plea that we avoid the pitfall of judgment or shaming others who choose to recreate outdoors beyond the ambiguous and personal definition of “local” or those who choose to support a resort with some time outdoors away from home.

Unless you are that person, you don’t know their individual story, who they live with, their individual health history, what they did or did not do on a respective fishing or hunting trip, and therefore cannot comprehend their exact risk to themselves or others. At some point, phasing slowly back to normalcy is going to happen, and there will be no restrictions.

We’re all doing our best through uncertainty and the challenge of guidelines vs. laws. All we can do it take it day by day, week by week, and phase back to normalcy as medical testing and capacity build.

I hope you can make time to get out and enjoy the outdoors. It’s an important step in maintaining your own physical and mental health, and as Minnesotans, it’s a critical part of our identity.

This is a test of our American character and that of Minnesotans; can we as individuals exercise self-restraint and do a good job with following public health recommendations?

We are all in this together; we are all sacrificing something, admittedly some more than others, to get a positive outcome. We all care about each other and want to be safe from disease, able to earn a living and pay our bills, and live in a free society without sanctioned liberty. Each day that passes brings us one day closer to getting out from under this pandemic.

Please be kind to one another and be well.

Scott Mackenthun is an outdoors enthusiast who has been writing about hunting and fishing since 2005. He resides in New Prague and may be contacted at scott.mackenthun@gmail.com.

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