Nature has a way of giving us a big dose of good feeling and now is the time to take advantage of the health benefits we all crave. Virginia’s state parks welcome visitors to enjoy May’s bounty while abiding by health safety guidelines during nature’s showcase month. While Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam issued a state-at-home order March 30, 2020, he acknowledged the importance of exercise outdoors.
More than 20 parks in the eastern region of Virginia are easily reached for day trips from Washington. You may hike, bike and paddle along well-maintained trails and river routes, but for now rental equipment is not available. Bring your own boat or bike and you will be able to access some fantastic experiences in public parkland.
Well-maintained trails in coastal and piedmont area parklands are beautifully wooded and great places for “forest bathing,” the practice of breathing in precious extra oxygen while walking through the woods. Virginia Gov. Northam has closed beaches except for exercise: the same parks popular for tidal sandy shores also offer great opportunities to spot wildlife and spectacular foliage in wooded marshland. They also maintain both easy and challenging biking and hiking trails.
Andrew Sporrer, who represents all Virginia parks within the eastern region, encourages people to take advantage of the self-guided nature experiences rangers have created. He says some parks have developed scavenger hunt brochures to help guide guests to natural and historical resources. To learn more about birding and other wildlife, visitors may check out informational kiosks near trailheads and centers.
Ranger-led walks and talks are currently not available for health reasons but that doesn’t mean the staffers haven’t been hard at work. Rangers across the state have created videos of their programs and uploaded them to Facebook in order to reach guests. View these short, educational interpretive programs at facebook.com/VirginiaStateParks.
All state-operated parks in Virginia have interesting backstories. While you’re out for governor-approved exercise, discover surprises in each spot. You may find ancient treasures like prehistoric sharks’ teeth, (Westmoreland State Park) or tiny gold flakes, (Lake Anna State Park). You might learn about plantation life (Chippokes) and Civil War battles (Sailor’s Creek). Or hike across what once was one of the highest bridges in the world, (High Bridge in Farmville). See where an enslaved man shipped himself to freedom (Widewater.) Check out resources created by the Civilian Conservation Corps when jobs were scarce but skilled labor built dreams. (Twin Lakes State Park). Catch a glimpse of American bald eagles when you visit their Northern Virginia nesting grounds (Caledon State Park). Or see Spanish moss hanging from trees in wooded marshland, Virginia Beach’s (First Landing State Park).
On April 3, Virginia State Parks planned to be open in May. Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation Communications Director David Neudeck shared this important message in the interest of promoting public health:
“Virginia State Parks are open for day-use activities. Visitors should stay close to home and visit with an activity in mind, such as walking, biking, paddling or fishing. Strict social distancing of six feet distance and limiting groups to fewer than 10 people is required and guests should bring soap for frequent hand washing. Overnight accommodations, campgrounds, restrooms and visitor centers are closed until further notice. Parking fee requirements remain in place with self-pay stations at each park entrance. Regular updates can be found on the state parks website at VirginiaStateParks.gov.”