Your Guide to Getting Back Outside

In the last decade, the eco-tourism industry has seen an unprecedented spike in the number of people traveling to parks, beaches, attractions and more. In 2016, the National Parks Service recorded an estimated 330 million visitors to its parks, museums and other attractions and in 2020, the number of visitors to the Virginia Zoo was set to break records – that was until, well, you know.

The pandemic halted the tourism industry, restricting money for necessary operations and inhibiting any connection to the outside world that we once knew. Now that the economy is slowly restarting, more people are feeling drawn to the outdoors and nature, and with the fear of climate change altering some of the world’s most famous sights and spectacles, there may be a sense of urgency to travel. If you’re one of those people who needs your fix of vitamin D after being quarantined for months, here are a few tips to venture out while not only keeping yourself safe, but also protecting the environment.

Make a Plan

Many animals have become more accustomed to places once ridden with people, this includes our local First Landing State Park, beaches and even the animals at the Virginia Zoo. While the Zoo’s Keepers maintained a schedule and kept the animals busy, when visitors finally returned to the Zoo, the animals appeared to be more interested in the faces they had not seen in months. Animals in the wild may not be used to having people around as much, so maintaining a safe distance from any and all wildlife is key. Depending on where you visit, it is beneficial to familiarize yourself with the local wildlife as to know what to do when you encounter a specific animal.

Leave No Trace

Many parks and nature preserves have this sign at their entrances, but do you know exactly what it means? Whatever you bring with you into nature must come out with you when you go home. Never dispose of any trash, including food waste like peels, and refrain from altering your environment. Those rock piles in the middle of river beds? Don’t build them. Many endangered species that live in water, including salamanders, rely on those rocks for shelter, so moving the rocks puts animals at risk for predation, and if a force of nature pushes the rocks over, can crush or kill the animals. Leave No Trace means leaving absolutely no evidence you were there.

Social Media Use

Who doesn’t want photos of their trip to one of the most beautiful places on earth? While our camera roll is a free souvenir we get to take home with us to remember our trip by, posting photos or videos on social media may not be as cool as you think. Sure, you’ll get dozens of likes, or thousands if you’re a social media influencer, but did you know that posting on social media may actually be indirectly harming the environment? Studies from the National Park Service have shown that social media has increased the number of visitors to their parks, simply by showing the world what they’re missing – it’s free advertising. While we’re not saying to ditch all of your social media platforms (how would you keep up with all the cute animals at the Virginia Zoo?), we are asking you to be mindful of what and how often you post – sometimes the best memories are best kept private.

STOP! Sanitize

No, you can’t touch this, because believe it or not, we’re still in a pandemic. Be sure you’re following your state government’s guidelines, which may include using sanitizer when entering buildings, maintaining a safe distance of six feet apart when near strangers and wearing a mask in certain establishments – such as when entering the Zoo’s gates, Gift Shop, Restaurant and restrooms. As many businesses, parks and attractions have reopened, be diligent about your safety…and others!

Love the Earth, but not to death

Spending time outside is a necessity and there are ways to do it that are both safe for yourself and your environment. There is no “one size fits all” solution for being a more environmentally-friendly tourist, but everyone’s efforts combined can make a difference and be beneficial for everyone – and everything – involved.

Did you know you can get a dose of nature, right in your own neighborhood? Visit the Virginia Zoo and enjoy animals from around the world, climbing and runnings among lush greenery and natural landscapes. Advanced ticket reservations are required and aid in keeping attendance low so you and your herd can safely socially distance while still enjoying the flora and fauna. Open daily; visit today!