With regard to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, the advice is now clear: stay at home, if you can. What with social distancing mandates and the halting of operations at various facilities and businesses, it may feel like there’s nothing to do this weekend.
However, even with a mandate of “no gatherings of more than 10 people may take place, and if a gathering does take place people must be six feet apart from each other,” there are still a number of options to keep outdoors enthusiasts busy. Below is a list of four activities that you can engage with and still stay safe:
While a winter storm somewhat hampered maintenance efforts this week — particularly for State Parks staff, who are advising people to not use state-maintained trails this weekend — the borough is still doing its best to maintain trails and recreation areas.
According to Bryant Wright, Fairbanks North Star Borough Parks and Recreation Department Trails Coordinator, borough staff are aiming to have a number of trails groomed by this weekend.
“All of the outdoor spaces are being maintained as usual,” “We’re doing grooming on the trails at Tanana Lakes Rec Area and Chena Lake Rec Area. This has been kind of a challenging week with the snow. They’ll be plowing first, to get access, and then they’ll start grooming.”
Wright warned that the trails won’t be packed down for a while, due to the recent winter storm, and, with warming temperatures, there may be overflow on some of the lakes.
“Especially at Tanana Lakes,” Wright said. “They’ll stop grooming the lake trails and just focus on the trails that are on dry land. But for now they’re still trying to groom everything.
“I’d recommend getting out while you can. The weather’s pretty great,” Wright added.
Wright was quick to note that taking precautions against the spread of the coronavirus is still very pertinent, even if you’re out on the trails on your own.
“If you’ve got symptoms, you really don’t want to be going out to these places,” Wright said. “If you’re sharing the trail with someone else, either passing by people or going with friends, keep your distance. I like to say: six feet is about the length of a cross country ski, so skiing is a good activity to do in this weather.”
Wright noted that the 2020 Winter Trails Challenge, which was supposed to end April 1, is going to be extended for the foreseeable future. The challenge involves taking a selfie next to signs that have been erected on 13 different trails in the area
“It’s one of the only programs we can keep running,” Wright said. “We’ll still keep track with people participating in it. The only one (sign) you can’t really get to right now is the one in the Big Dipper.”
The borough is still planning on giving out prizes to those who participated, although the prize-giving celebration is now canceled. Wright advised that some of the trails on the list are maintained by volunteers, rather than borough staff.
“With this much snow, I would expect pretty challenging conditions out there,” he said. “Just be wary that some of the trails that you may have encountered as nice, groomed trails — you may be seeing them in a bit deeper conditions than you’re used to.”
For more information on the Trails Challenge, including a list of trails, you can visit the website at bit.ly/3bxJ78T.
While the borough has closed most of its recreational facilities and programs, all outdoor facilities are still open. This includes the outdoors rinks at the Big Dipper, which were freshly zammed this week.
“It’s a good time to get out and spend some time outdoors, especially in the middle of the day,” Wright said. “Get out and keep your distance from others!”
Hunt a moose
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced this week that it’s extended the season for moose hunting in the Unit 18 Remainder Hunt area, near Bethel. The season has been extended from the normal closing date of March 15 to April 30.
In January of 2020, the Alaska Board of Game liberalized the seasons for Unit 18 Remainder, due to the high population of moose and requests to increase opportunities for hunters. The moose population in this portion of Unit 18 is estimated to be approximately 15,500 moose, which is above department objectives.
The extension aligns the hunting season on State managed lands with moose hunting on Federally managed lands along the Yukon River and Johnson River upstream of Nunavakanukakslak lake. 2020 hunting license and General Season Moose Harvest Tickets are available online at bit.ly/2JiU56s. All nonresident moose seasons and other moose seasons and bag limits in Unit 18 remain unchanged and the bag limit in this area is two moose per regulatory year. If a person has harvested a moose in the fall 2019 or winter 2020 season, they are still able to harvest one moose in this extended season.
Meanwhile, those hunting Fortymile Caribou, the season for which was reopened March 21-31, after the Canadian allocation was not met, are being advised to take precautions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
A notice from the department asks those participating in the limited targeted hunt to avoid close contact with residents in communities along the Taylor and Steese Highways, including Chicken, Eagle, Central and Circle.
“These communities are working to do their part to slow the spread of coronavirus, and your cooperation is part of this process. We are asking that hunters please minimize their presence in the areas near these communities,” the notice states. “Hunters are also reminded that no services (fuel, food, lodging, etc.) are available for hunters along the Taylor Highway at this time and the highway is currently being cleared of snow by the Alaska Department of Transportation.”
Hunters are encouraged to maintain social distancing, avoid forming groups of more than 10 people, keep at least six feet away from others, and wash hands frequently.
For additional information about recommended social distancing practices and other health and safety procedures, you can visit the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services COVID-19 webpage at bit.ly/33MA8hu.
Catch the aurora
While temperatures are forecast to drop, skies are expected to clear over the next week. As we get closer to the summer solstice, this provides perfect conditions for one of the last opportunities to see the aurora borealis.
According to the University of Fairbanks Alaska Geological Institute, auroral activity is likely to be fairly high both today and tomorrow. So set your alarms, grab your cameras and tripods, and find a secluded space with a good view.
Explore Fairbanks has a number of recommendations for good spots to view the northern lights. These include Murphy Dome, located about 25 miles from downtown Fairbanks, and Chena Lake Recreation Area. A full list can be found at bit.ly/2QLlKB6.
Activities for kids stuck at home
For parents, self-isolation and social distancing can make it hard to keep the kids entertained. After Fairbanks North Star Borough canceled its recreation programs, it introduced two new initiatives: Free Play Packs for kids and the Play @ Home program.
The Play Packs include art supplies, activity pages, snacks and more. The borough began giving these packs away for free on Wednesday at the Big Dipper and, according to Bryant Wright, they’ve already given out roughly 500.
For updates on where and when the packs are being given out, check the Fairbanks North Star Borough Facebook page at bit.ly/33MOjU1. Any questions about the Play Pacls can be directed to Lauren Eck at email@example.com.
If you missed your opportunity to pick up a Play Pack, you can also get involved in the Play @ Home program. After signing up online, you will receive four “interactive activities to play, learn, move and create your way through the day.”
Activities can be completed by any or all family members, but only one participant needs to register for the program. Participants are encouraged to create a catchy team name.
If you complete all four activities, you receive a star. Teams with five stars at the end of the week will be entered to win a grand prize and a new winner will be chosen each week.
A new set of challenges will be sent to all participants who have completed all four activities daily at 9 a.m. The first set of challenges will launch on Monday. Any questions about the Play @ Home program can be directed to Lauren Eck at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact staff writer Alistair Gardiner at 459-7575. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMoutdoors.