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IN Park Officials: Stay Home, But Get Out
Indiana Ag Connection - 04/06/2020

Outdoor recreation is considered essential under Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb's stay-at-home order, so many parks facilities and golf courses are staying open to the public.

"There's all sorts of health benefits even in a non-quarantined time, but during this time it's even better," Elkhart County naturalist Krista Daniels told Dani Messick, a reporter with Elkhart Truth. "You get a little bit of freedom and you're not confined to the four walls of your room. I think even just looking away from a screen and resting your eyes, seeing something in natural light, is way better."

Parks departments and other natural resources agencies have closed down many amenities such as playgrounds and some indoor shelters, but they are keeping their walking trails and bike paths open to the public because they believe in the benefits of spending time outdoors.

"Spending time in nature provides not only children but adults too with a wide range of health benefits," said Marcos Stoltzfus, director of environmental education outreach at Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center, to Messick. "It can also improve academic outcomes as well, ranging from enhancing attention to helping with behaviors like impulse control, better engagement with learning and a whole host of researched benefits."

With nearly 1,200 acres of nature sanctuary, Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center near Wolf Lake, offers education resources, trails, sustainable farming and native diversity research through Goshen College.

"Part of the reason our organization even exists is because we know that nature plays an important role, not only ecologically, but also in terms of how humans interact with it," Stoltzfus said.

At Merry Lea, trails will remain open the same hours as before, dawn until dusk, although precautions have been taken to help ensure the safety of visitors. Stoltzfus said nature trails are safe during the pandemic as long as individuals are following Center for Disease Control guidelines including social distancing and awareness of surfaces and trail shelters. They've closed down the learning center but kept bathrooms open for the time being.

Elkhart Environmental Center's cabin is closed to the public, but trails and property remain accessible dawn through dusk, although guests should park outside the gate in order to enter.

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