When folks think of the MSU-Bozeman experience, images of hiking, camping and other forms of recreating outdoors with friends are sure to come to mind. This year though, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, one may be confused about how to safely enjoy our beautiful home with friends and fellow outdoor enthusiasts. But, with a little common sense and good preventative practice, there shouldn't be much stopping you from getting out and enjoying what southwest Montana has to offer with some good friends.
First, make sure that your contact with others is as limited as possible. Ensure that before your day out in the mountains or evening on the river, you aren’t exposing yourself to any unnecessary danger. Stay a safe distance from others, wear a mask when inside or in close quarters and wash or disinfect your hands as frequently as you can. Bring a small container of hand sanitizer with you and use it after making contact with potentially contaminated surfaces. These first precautions are the most important, as your exposure to the virus prior to your trip can be the difference between a low-risk situation and a high-risk one. If you really want to share the outdoors with your closest pals, then you’ll be considerate in the days prior, ensuring your safety and theirs.
Once the scheduled trip arrives, make sure that you do not let your guard down about safety precautions and continue to be thoughtful in your decision making. One choice that is easy to make is to wear a mask when around others in close proximity, such as in the car on the way out of town. When packed into a vehicle, your chances of spreading the virus amongst each other increases greatly. Consider other ways you can limit risk such as having your passenger sit in the back seat or rolling the windows down and allowing air to circulate freely.
Once you arrive at your recreation destination, make a judgement call on whether you should continue wearing masks or not. If you’re visiting Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park, for example, then plan on wearing a mask while mingling amongst the large groups of tourists visiting from places near and far. If you’re doing something that’s not going to put you around a large number of people, then taking off your mask would be just fine. Ultimately, it's about your comfort level and what you deem as an appropriate action to avoid catching or spreading the virus.
A great choice in general is to try to avoid crowded areas. Use this as an opportunity to explore new places that others don’t bother to see for themselves! You and your friends will be safer and gain more from the experience if you get outside your normal routine and go somewhere you have not visited before.
Once you get back to town, consider what you want to discover next and how that is going to work. Planning is key to a safe and enjoyable trip, as it allows you to really evaluate how you can enjoy your activity while being safe. But, if you decide on a last-second idea for a trip, it’s vital that you keep your guard up and continue to make smart choices in order to avoid exposure. If your friends are not on the same page, then maybe it would be best if you find others to go with or take a solo day and find serenity on your own. It may be an inconvenience to not be able to enjoy the normal perks of a day spent in nature with friends, but that does not compare to the discomfort of getting sick with COVID-19 and putting others around you at risk.
MSU is one of the best schools in the country for folks who enjoy the outdoors and recreating with friends. But this year, with all the tension surrounding COVID-19, it’s important to remember these tips when heading outside with others. Common sense and following the government guidelines are the most important pieces of information to remember. Keeping that in mind, you can still enjoy our community’s serenity while also ensuring its safety.