DELVAL OUTDOORS NEWS ROUNDUP, APRIL 13, 2020

Toleration statue looks out over the Wissahickon Valley in northwest Philadelphia on April 11, 2020. [Photo: Kyle Bagenstose]

By Kyle Bagenstose

The week opens with a storm-filled day, and unfortunately looks like it will roll right into cooler and gray weather ahead. Really no signs of those glorious, gorgeous spring days anytime in the near future, but I know I’ll be on the lookout for spots of sunshine this week to get outdoors.

Today’s headlines and highlights

It was also a slow weekend for environmental news in the Delaware Valley. If there’s a continuing trend I’m seeing, it’s tension between those advocating for restrictions on outdoor activities in light of COVID-19 and some parts of the recreational community.

There’s a growing list of best practice pieces. The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia has a piece up on how to ride a bike safely during COVID-19, while PennLive’s Marcus Schneck wrote “Outdoor etiquette: How not to be a jerk during the coronavirus pandemic.” The pieces follow our posting last week of basic guidelines for backpacking and camping in Pennsylvania under the new coronavirus, and we hope to have a similar piece up this week for paddling.

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DelVal Outdoors News Roundup, April 10, 2020

The Twin Bridges near East Falls Philadelphia (and a railroad), as seen by kayak on April 6, 2020 [Photo: Kyle Bagenstose]

By Kyle Bagenstose

On Monday, I took my kayak out for the first time this year, to catch some sun on the Schuylkill off Philly’s Kelly Drive. “Maybe I’ll hit it again Friday,” I thought.

Nope: it seems we’ve lost some of that sunshine from earlier in the week and are looking at a high of just 50 degrees under cloudly skies today. But it’s up to 57 tomorrow and maybe even 70 on Sunday, so hopefully there are some opportunities to fish, paddle, or kayak to be had.

Today’s headlines and highlights

Philly parks reaching a boiling point? Perhaps what most caught my eye over the past 24 hours was this editorial from the Inquirer’s editorial board, calling on Mayor Jim Kenney to follow New Jersey’s lead and close all of the city’s parks and facilities. The Inquirer takes the time to note all of the negatives that come from such a decision, but ultimately concludes that it’s in the interest of public health, particularly as crowding has continued and residents have ignored the partial closures of basketball courts and other city assets.

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Can I camp or backpack in Pennsylvania under coronavirus? Should I?

A view from the Appalachian Trail near Hamburg in April 2019. [Photo: Kyle Bagenstose]

By Kyle Bagenstose

If you’re like me, early spring is a favorite time of year. As temperatures warm, I head down to the basement to dust off and take inventory of all my camping and backpacking gear. Living in Philadelphia, French Creek State Park and Hickory Run State Park are typically my first targets, where I’ll spend a night or two to get back in the swing of things before targeting parks or backpacking trails farther afield.

This year however, COVID-19 has thrown a wrench in all those plans. Many campgrounds are shuttered, and there also seems to be a gray area between what’s legal to do and what’s recommended. I’ve seen this gray area spark many wars of words in online backpacking and hiking groups. So I’ve attempted to assemble a useful guide here of what’s open and closed, along with the do’s and don’ts.

Should I be camping or backpacking?

Let’s start here. And let’s be clear: we’re in the middle of a global pandemic. While it’s certainly annoying and dispiriting that COVID-19 is impacting our ability to do the activities we love most, that burden pales in comparison to those who are fighting for their lives or love somebody who may have already lost theirs. A chunk of warm weather lost to camping is far less valuable than a lost life.

But, health experts and leaders in government obviously do recognize the value of getting outdoors. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s statewide shutdown order explicitly allows for “life-sustaining” activities like exercise and hiking.

So what’s what?

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DelVal Outdoors News Roundup, April 9, 2020

The Wissahickon Creek rolls on at a good clip following overnight storms on April 8, 2020. [Photo: Kyle Bagenstose]

By Kyle Bagenstose

Today’s headlines and highlights

This morning starts us off surprisingly sunny and nice. My iPhone had been predicting a kind of gray day with early afternoon storms and then wind. But as of mid-morning it is quite beautiful outside, although there looks to still be a chance of storms and subsequent winds. This may not age well.

If you’ve got 15 minutes and have an interest in Philadelphia parks, spend it on this episode of WHYY’s The Why. Host Shai Ben-Yaacov interviews Plan Philly’s Meir Rinde and WHYY’s Catalina Jaramillo about the past, present, and future of Philly parks. They do a great job articulating some of the angst I’ve felt as an outdoor-lover in Philadelphia: parks remain open, but they also remain crowded. Are they at risk of closure? How could our relationships to open spaces change post-COVID19? They also dive into a fascinating history of the development of parks as a remedy to protect public health and ward off water-borne diseases.

If you’re wondering which parks and trails are open in the Delaware Valley, check out our living list of what’s open and closed. We published it yesterday but will try and keep it up to date throughout the crisis.

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DelVal Outdoors News Roundup, April 8, 2020

Geese make their away across the Schuylkill River near Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park. [Photo: Kyle Bagenstose]

By Kyle Bagenstose

Welcome to the first ever environmental news roundup from DelVal Outdoors. I hope to write these regularly to update readers on all news and developments regarding the outdoors in the region.

First, a quick shoutout to some of the awesome journalists and outlets that produced news items referenced below. You should follow them to go straight to the source: Frank Kummer covers the environment for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Catalina Jaramillo covers the environment and sustainability for WHYY, Michael Sol Warren is the environmental reporter for NJ.com, and former PADEP secretary David Hess runs the PA Environment Digest newsletter, where he breaks down all PA state government news coming out of Harrisburg.

Today’s headlines and highlights

Good news: It’s a gorgeous spring day, expected to be mostly sunny and breaking 70 degrees in Center City Philly. Bad news: of course the novel coronavirus hovers over everything as the crisis continues to ramp up in NJ, PA, and DE.

We’re working on putting together a comprehensive list of what’s open, closed, and where later today, but the big change from yesterday is that the NJDEP has closed all state parks and forests effective 8:00 p.m. last night. This appears to mean everything, including hiking and boating, as the NJDEP apparently saw unsafe trends of crowded parks continuing.

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Kicking off DelVal Outdoors

The Delaware River on a September morning, at the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area in NEPA. [Photo: Kyle Bagenstose]

By Kyle Bagenstose

Many of my earliest memories involve the outdoors. I grew up in Sinking Spring, Pa., just outside Reading, in a neighborhood on the very edge of suburbia. My sense of place is always centered on that land: rolling green hills perfect for biking and exploring, trips to ponds and creeks for fishing, and walks to cool, shallow streams in search of crawfish.

In elementary school and junior high it was the Boy Scouts, sleep away camps, and visits to Hawk Mountain and the Poconos where I learned to shoot, sail, hike, and otherwise enjoy nature.

My later teenage years took a turn away from all that. Academic, athletic, and social interests predominated. I largely forgot about the great outdoors. The big city of Philadelphia came calling, and the journalism program at Temple University became my central focus.

But after graduating in 2010 and starting a career in the field, an old instinct started to pull me toward the greens and browns and blues of the outside world. Suddenly I was compelled to try landing whatever I could out of the Manayunk Canal with an old fishing pole. I dug through my parents’ basement, dusting off a musty tent not used in perhaps a decade. New hiking boots and moisture-wicking gear were purchased, along with a membership card from the Conshohocken REI. It felt like a passport.

The love snowballed. Hiking became backpacking, first overnights and then long weekends. Quick kayak trips on quiet lakes evolved into long slogs down the Schuylkill and Delaware. The outdoors once again became my center.

Along the way, I was fortunate to mesh my hobbies with my career. In 2015, the Bucks County Courier Times was hiring for an environmental reporter on its investigative team. The editor took a chance on me, and for the next four years I reported as much as I could on environmental issues in Bucks County, Burlington County, and the greater Delaware Valley. This too snowballed, leading to an opportunity to cover the Northeast for The USA TODAY Network, which I took in November 2019.

But I remained in Philly and my passion for covering the environment in the region did too. Enter my launching of this independent journalism project, DelVal Outdoors. I hope to grow this website into a useful publication, and perhaps even community, focused on the natural world in and around Philly. My initial goal is to cover both conservation (a squishy gray term that I define as protecting the environment and its resources from drastic human damage) and recreation.

But I imagine the seed of this project that I’m now planting may grow in unpredictable and unexpected ways. For now, my focus will simply be to water it, using my instinct and editorial judgment, until it hopefully forms into something useful and maybe even beautiful.

It’s a privilege to be able to do this, and I thank you for reading.