I hiked up Gibraltar today. If you were to drive up to either entrance, you would find orange barriers and yellow CAUTION tape strung across. You would also find orange fence barriers across the Ice Age Trail trailhead. But, in fact, the IAT is open and you can hike to the top. Just don’t park within 1/2 mile of the entrance. You might also need to jump a fence or two or climb through the brush.
Why is that? The signs on the fences say “CLOSED TO PUBLIC USE…FOR PUBLIC HEALTH COVID-19 RESPONSE”. So is being outside around other people the issue? Apparently not, since most other state parks are open, and the latest research says transmission mostly happens indoors, and being outside is one of the safest things you can do (besides being alone in the house).
The other reason I have heard is that there is a concern about crowds and erosion. Gibraltar has always had erosion issues, especially around the famous juniper tree everyone wants a photo of. This is nothing new. The specific areas that have issues, like the juniper tree, can be mitigated. Don’t need to close the whole place. The IAT trails are in awesome shape, a great testament to our local IAT chapter. Maybe the DNR can consult with them on technique.
In situations like this spring, the immediate default reaction by a bureaucracy is to shut down and go for maximum safety. And, given what little we knew back then, it was probably appropriate. We know much more now, including that exercise reduces comorbidities such as obesity and diabetes, two major factors in how one dies with COVID-19.
If I was in charge (which I’m not, which is why I’m writing), I might see this as an opportunity. People have been holed up and are getting restless. They want things to do. How about channeling that restlessness into a new appreciation for our outdoor resources? Find your space! Get outside and get healthy! Discover Wisconsin beauty in your backyard! Sure, there might be crowds and some issues for a while, the kinds of things that drive bureaucracies batty, but it might just create a longer lasting love for our public resources and more willingness to spend the resources to effectively manage them. DNR, don’t let a good crisis go to waste! Get creative! #FreeGibraltar!
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