Much of the joy of living in Southwest Florida is being able to participate in outdoor activities year-round. Not so when we’re being asked to self-quarantine and when many of our nature centers and beaches are closed due to the coronavirus outbreak.
It’s hard to know that we can’t shuffle our way through the sand and plunk our chairs down in front of the Gulf or play a round of golf or pickleball right now. But, fear not: There are still some options to go outside, as several organizations are keeping their trails open. Plus, many of those who had to shutter are stepping up to bring nature to you via the web. Here, we provide seven outdoorsy ways to get to get through this coronavirus pandemic without going stir-crazy.
Naples Zoo: Just because you’re stuck at home doesn’t mean you can’t get your dose of cute animals. Naples Zoo is streaming various animal exhibits on its Facebook page. So far, the spotlight has been on Athena, the panther; a pair of colorful macaw; clouded leopards; and a very friendly green tree python. Tune in to see who will be featured next.
Naples Botanical Garden: Though Naples Botanical Garden is closed until further notice, the team is encouraging everyone to #StayPlanted by connecting with its virtual community. The page, geared toward plant lovers, is being updated with educational stories and ideas for plant-related activities and gardening projects you can do at home. And why not? A self-quarantine provides the ideal time to flex your green thumb. Learn to grow a fruit tree, create planters out of recycled toilet paper rolls, make sweet potato gnocchi and learn about what’s blooming at the garden. The group is also posting recipes and other ideas on their Instagram and Facebook pages.
Collier County Beaches: The beaches are closed in Collier County, but the stellar views are still available. Take in live footage of the Naples Pier, Vanderbilt Beach Resort, JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort and others with their beach webcams. While it’s initially odd to see once-popular beaches vacant, it’s quite relaxing to watch the waves ripple up to the silent shore.
Virtual National Park Tours: For those who are quarantined and can’t go outside at all, how nice would it be to escape from our homes and be transported to any one of 32 national parks in the U.S., including our very own Everglades? Google Earth makes that possible by offering HD tours of our most stunning wildlands. Click on the Everglades for a totally up-close experience that keeps you at a social distance from others—and from the alligators.
J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge: One of Sanibel Island’s most prominent natural treasures is still accessible for visitors. Ding Darling’s hiking trails remain open, as well as the Wildlife Drive, which is free to enter at this time. Don’t forget to keep an eye out for the birds, alligators, manatees, raccoons, turtles and other wildlife that frequent the preserve.
Gordon River Greenway: The 2.5-mile boardwalk of Gordon River Greenway is still open to the public. Wind along the path surrounded by wildlife and lush green vegetation to get the fresh air you’ve been craving, while squeezing in a nice workout.
Rookery Bay/Rising Tide Explorers Eco Tours: The beaches might be closed, but Rookery Bay is still helping get people on the water with its private boat and kayak tours, which are led by trained scientists and go out in small groups that adhere to social distancing guidelines. A partnership with Rising Tide Explorers, the tours give you an inside look at the estuary’s various ecosystems as you paddle or float through mangrove tunnels, mudflats and to shell-stocked barrier islands. The nature center itself is closed, but you can also keep up with Rookery Bay’s Facebook page to catch virtual offerings, like a recent live chat with Clyde Butcher.
Local National Parks: Both the Everglades and Big Cypress National Preserve remain open for adventurers. Although Everglades National Park is closed via the Miami-Dade entrance, it remains accessible through Everglades City. Both locales’ visitors’ centers are closed and park ranger programs are canceled, but you can still get in for a hike.
If you choose to go outside, please be mindful to practice social distancing guidelines and other safety precautions outlined by the CDC. Stay at least six feet away from other people and avoid high-touch areas, like public restrooms, playgrounds and even benches. Also be wary of mundane risks. Any injuries resulting from a car accident when you’re traveling to the park or sprained ankle when you’re out for a hike will put a strain on our already taxed healthcare system. It’s OK to venture out, but just be extra careful.
Check with these places and the state/CDC’s precise guidelines as things are constantly changing during the coronavirus pandemic. However, during the stay-at-home order, it’s best to stay close to home as much as possible. For a real outdoor fix, go on safe social distancing walk around your neighborhood. Boating is still ok, too, so long as you follow CDC regulations.