NC parks create PATH to encourage continuation of healthy outdoor activities after the COVID-19 pandemic

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- When the spring of 2020 brought us the pandemic, citizens in many countries were only allowed outside for essential trips like going to the grocery store.

Here we were fortunate that isolation orders still allowed for outdoor adventure.

"It's opened a lot of people's eyes to how important parks and these greenways are that people get out and enjoy the trail systems with their health, and COVID-19 has just enforced that," Jay Greenwood told ABC 11.

Greenwood is a North Carolina state parks superintendent based in the Triangle.

He says with so many getting outdoors during the pandemic, his bosses at the state Department of Natural and Cultural Resources want to seize the moment with an initiative called PATH.

Hiking enthusiast Jerry Barker of Raleigh was glad to hear about PATH--which stands for Parks and Trails for Health.

Barker, a retired North Carolina State University Associate Vice Chancellor, agrees that with so many more people discovering the great outdoors during the pandemic, now is the time to make them life-long park visitors and improve health across the state.

"We have won a lot of friends over to continuing to hike even after the restrictions are lifted," he said, "I think we've got a lot of new friends on the parks and trails of North Carolina."

Barker has a particular passion for the state's Mountains-to-Sea Trail.

No matter where you live, there's likely a segment of the MTS not far from your home. Many of those segments lead to interesting destinations, according to Barker.

"When you're hiking the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, you have the opportunity to interact, to come close to a lot of the historic sites, and it's pretty easy just to take a short detour."

Between those historic sites and other places, like the North Carolina Museum of Art, there is a ton of public outdoor space in the Triangle.

But state parks officials said those areas have been quite crowded during the pandemic.

So they are encouraging folks to be more adventurous.

"There are a lot of other parks that are outside of the Triangle that are within an hour, hour and a half, that aren't so crowded that our visitors could actually get to pretty quickly from the Triangle area," said Greenwood, who went on to name a couple: "Places like Carvers Creek State Park, Weymouth Woods."

You can find those places and more on the state's web page dedicated to the PATH initiative.

So even after the pandemic ends, get out and get healthy.
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