While the upcoming weekend weather doesn't necessarily remind us of spring, warmer weather is just around the corner. As the days get longer and temperatures rise, people naturally want to head outdoors. But this year it's not business as usual.

While the upcoming weekend weather doesn't necessarily remind us of spring, warmer weather is just around the corner. As the days get longer and temperatures rise, people naturally want to head outdoors. But this year it's not business as usual.

North Dakota's outdoors and its health benefits, including stress reduction, lower blood pressure, better sleep, and relief from anxiety, stress, and depression, are likely more important than ever. That's why the North Dakota departments of Parks and Recreation and Game and Fish want to remind citizens who venture outdoors to avoid crowds and practice recommended social distancing.

"We encourage people to get outside and fish and enjoy the outdoors," said Game and Fish Director Terry Steinwand, "but we also need to practice the recommendations for minimizing the risk of spread of the COVID-19 virus."

Especially for anglers at popular shore-fishing locations, Steinwand said a good rule of thumb is that if you can reach out with a fishing rod and touch the person fishing next to you, you're too close. "In other situations, we urge people to follow the 6-foot separation guideline as well," Steinwand added.

The Parks and Recreation Department reported higher than usual traffic at state parks and other locations this past weekend and expected more of the same as the weeks continue. "We have been seeing a lot of users out on the trails and biking around the parks," reports Parks and Recreation Interim Director Ryan Gardner. "We saw a lot of people following proper social distancing rules and being respectful toward the natural landscape."

Both Game and Fish and Parks and Recreation have closed all office buildings to public traffic, but Parks' day-use facilities, including trails and boat ramps, remain open. Parks and Recreation reminds visitors that daily passes can be purchased at the iron rangers, and all annual passes can be purchased online. "We are continuing to work to find ways to let people still enjoy the parks during this time," Gardner stated, "and we also want to remind people that the OHV trails are open for the season."

Game and Fish is also keeping its public outdoor facilities, such as wildlife management areas and fishing waters, open for people to use, but agency staff are keeping an eye on popular shore-fishing areas to assess the level of activity. "We depend on the public's awareness and willingness to cooperate," Steinwand said, "but we'll be monitoring some areas, and if it appears that the recommendations are not being followed, we might have to consider closing those areas because of the risk involved."

Both agencies want to remind users to be mindful while outdoors, stay on marked trails, and if trails are too muddy to use, find another travel route. "If you pack it in, pack it out," both Gardner and Steinwand agreed. "It's important to leave North Dakota's valuable natural resources in the same state in which you found them.