Last year, the big concern was about people spreading COVID-19 to other outdoor enthusiasts when out hiking, biking, ATV riding, whitewater rafting, fishing, camping, hunting, etc.
The best solution was to venture out in smaller groups, mask up when you can’t social distance, go with family members, close personal friends or roommates. During the summer of 2020, we saw an unprecedented increase in public use of our public lands, local, state and federal — presumably because people didn’t have anywhere else to go because of the pandemic.
This year, the consortium of state and federal agencies in Idaho that worked on the Recreate Responsibly Idaho campaign last year pivoted to an urgent need to inform and educate recreationists of all kinds about being good land stewards – remembering to pack out trash, properly dispose of human waste, do your homework on where you’re planning to go before you leave home, be smart about fire safety, and more.
For 2021, we called it the Recreate Responsibly Idaho 2.0 campaign. We decided that we’d mainly try to get the word out via weekly or twice-weekly social media posts to be shared by the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation , Idaho Fish and Game, the Bureau of Land Management , the U.S. Forest Service, Idaho Department of Lands, the Idaho Rangeland Resources Commission, and the Idaho Department of Commerce. The campaign also contains an advertising component with online, television, and radio spots that drive traffic to the recreate.idaho.gov website.
It’s too early to tell for some of the agencies as to whether they’re seeing another overall increase in public use this year, but at least in our State Parks, agency officials said we are on track to break last year’s record.
“It looks like we’re going to smash our record year,” said Craig Quintana, spokesman for IDPR. The state parks had a record 7.7 million visits last year. As of June 2021, park visits were up by 600,000 people.
On a national level, the U.S. government is seeing public use in 2021 out-pace 2020 at national park units, in national forests and on BLM-managed public lands.
As for tourism visits, the Idaho Department of Commerce’s VisitIdaho campaign seems to be attracting more visitors to the state, based on July 2021 numbers, said Matt Borud, marketing and innovation administrator. July lodging numbers in Idaho, for example, show a 98% increase over July 2020 and a 38% increase over July 2019, Borud said.
Last year, the public agencies saw a disturbing increase in people leaving garbage strewn about at dispersed camp sites on BLM and Forest Service lands, trash being left inside fire rings, trash stuffed into restroom facilities. Perhaps you’ve seen some of the pics.
A similar trend is occurring this year, officials said. There also are problems with people failing to dispose of human waste properly, potentially causing an increase in E-coli in adjacent streams; ATV or UTV riders scaling steep hillsides and leaving ruts in their wake, causing erosion issues; and ATV or UTV riders roaming the backcountry in search of a destination, sometimes driving up ranchers’ or landowners’ driveways, thinking they’re a public road.
Similar issues are being seen in other western states. A number of other western states and a national organization also have launched “Recreate Responsibly” campaigns as well with a similar focus on being a good land steward and being a good trail ambassador.
The state of Idaho is putting more resources into paid media than other states, Borud said. “Seems like we’re a little ahead of the curve, compared to some of the other western states,” he said. “I think you’re going to continue to see a lot of emphasis on being a good steward of the land in the next couple of years.”
Because of the drought and water shortages in 2021, Idaho agencies are also extremely concerned about fire danger, as 80% of wildfires are caused by humans each year. That could be from things like leaving campfires unattended, not putting out campfires entirely, not disposing of cigarettes in a safe manner, sparks from shooting, vehicles, or equipment use — things like that.
Fortunately, there hasn’t been a huge uptick in forest or range fires in Idaho so far this year, so maybe the fire safety message has been working.
Other issues that the RRI 2.0 campaign has been emphasizing include:
• Pack it in, pack it out. That means your garbage and anything else you brought with you on your outdoor outing.
• Rangeland issues such as remembering to close gates when you pass through in your vehicle or on the trail, and leaving guard dogs in the woods as they have a job to do.
• Being courteous on boat ramps. Launch your boat quickly and move out so the next group can access the ramp.
• ATV, UTV and motorbike safety for young riders (helmets are required for youths under the age of 18) and experienced riders.
• How to find trip-planning resources for exploring Idaho through VisitIdaho, IDPR, IDFG, the Forest Service and BLM.
• No fireworks allowed on public lands.
• Having more than one destination in mind when you head outdoors in Idaho … the campgrounds and lodging properties are super busy and mostly full. So have a Plan A, Plan B, Plan C and Plan D in mind before you go. You may not get your first choice.
• Being civil on the trails with other users and practice good trail etiquette … such as the “Happy Trails” campaign in the Boise Foothills.
• “Mind your wake” when wake-boarding on Idaho’s lakes … keeping in mind that other boaters and non-motorized users may not like getting tossed around by large wakes and knowing that the large wakes cause erosion on the lakeshore.
• Life jacket safety.