To the Editor:
Three weeks ago, the Manchester Essex Conservation Trust made the decision to keep our trail system open to visitors during the COVID19 shutdown, on the idea that it is important for people to get outdoors and stay connected with nature. We have since had large numbers of visitors, especially at the upper School Street trailhead leading to Cedar Swamp and the Wilderness Conservation Area. We have seen well behaved visitors observing the social distancing protocol, but this "success" has raised some public concern about the risk of exposure and gotten us thinking again about our COVID response.
We will continue to keep our trails and parking areas open, urging people as before to be careful and considerate. However, we have decided that two new restrictions are in order to address situations where the risk is highest. The first is to close the Cedar Swamp boardwalk, where it is very difficult for people to maintain 6' distancing. Both ends of the boardwalk will be closed off, with explanatory signs posted. We will also post our kiosks at School Street and other trailheads. Visitors wishing to get deeper into the woods will be directed around the Old Manchester Road.
Secondly, we have also decided to require that all dogs be leashed at all times. Our policy at present is that owners may have up to three well behaved dogs under voice control, but the numbers of visitors and dogs has risen, and dogs have been identified as potential COVID vectors.
We also encourage visitors to wear masks where they are likely to be near others, notably our parking lots. In all instances, be sure to comply with direction from public health officials.
Let's be safe; let's be strong; and remember: we're all in this together!