Honestly, I wasn’t sure there would be anything to say about local travel for this month’s column. As the magnitude of the COVID-19 pandemic became a stark reality around the globe over the past four weeks, the idea of ‘travel’ and ‘travelling’ began to feel out of sight. 

As of the time of publication, all non-essential travel is banned. There are no international trips. There are no last-minute spring seat sales. There are no weekend getaways. There are no trips to the cottage. Provincial and national parks are closed. 

When it comes down to it, what we have at the moment are the spaces closest to us — our own glorious hyperlocal backyard.

Given that all events and programs are cancelled, gathering spaces are closed, social gatherings are discouraged and the Region of Waterloo, together with all seven area municipalities have all declared a State of Emergency, let’s turn to nature’s healer, the outdoors around us. 

But even getting outside can seem a bit complicated and it could change with further restrictions. 

The Globe and Mail health columnist, André Picard, gave this helpful distinction in his opinion article from Mar. 21, 2020. 

“Right now, most Canadians can go for a walk. Or a run. Or walk the dog. If — and this is an important “if” — they are not in isolation.”

“You can go for a walk if you have not been diagnosed with COVID-19 if you don’t have a recent history of travel outside the country, and if you don’t have symptoms that could be COVID-19 (whether you have been tested or not).” 

If you are lucky enough to get outside, the physical distance rule of a minimum two-metre buffer still applies, and don’t gather in groups. 

There are only so many times you can walk the same streets of your own neighbourhood or nearby park, so here are a few ways to get out exploring, safely. 

Sometimes I cruise Google Maps looking for green spaces, trails, forests and parks within the Region of Waterloo. There are hundreds. I like to look for waterways such as streams, creeks and ponds. Find a few that interest you and go there for a walk, run or bike ride. 

We need the physical activity, but even more so, we need the mental and emotional restorative effects of fresh air, bird song and seeing other humans on something other than a screen. 

Some of my favourite outdoor spaces where it’s easy to practice physical distancing include:

  • The Walter Bean Grand River Trail with multiple access points in Waterloo, Kitchener & Cambridge. 
  • The rare Charitable Research Reserve on Blair Road, Cambridge has eight kilometres of trails that weave along the south side of the Grand River and which connects to the Walter Bean Trail.
  • The Huron Natural Area in the south end of Kitchener.
  • Regional Forests and Tracts – did you know the Region of Waterloo owns and manages 16 forests and woodlands? One of my favourites is the Sudden Regional Forest in North Dumfries. Find them all mapped and listed on the Region of Waterloo website. 
  • Township of Wilmot Arboretum – yes, we have an arboretum! 
  • Cambridge to Paris Rail Trail – wide and straight and long. 
  • The Geo Time Trail in Northwest Waterloo, which I’ve written about in an earlier column.
  • The Grand River Conservation Authority outlines a dozen trails within the Grand River watershed.
  • NOTE: The Hydro Cut trails are closed until further notice.

 Please check information on websites for these areas before heading out as conditions can change. 

Travel writer and hiker Nicola Ross recently published a new hiking guide for Waterloo and Wellington regions in her popular “Loops & Lattes” series. Order a copy from Wordsworth Books and use it to explore some lesser-known trails and hikes close to home.

Add a virtual walking app to your outdoor pursuits where every step you take at home moves you along a scenic or classic route of your choosing in, say, Uzbekistan or Tasmania, Argentina or Alaska. Apps such as World Walking and Virtual Walk can transport us to places that we won’t get to anytime soon. 

If you’re not going outside because of isolation or health reasons, Google Maps and Google Earth are useful tools for exploring our cities and towns virtually. I’m always amazed by stories of people who use street view and satellite maps to tour every street in their own city or a favourite destination somewhere in the world. 

More than ever before, getting outdoors and into nature during these uncertain and interesting times is important for our individual and collective well-being. Just do it in your own community with two metres of separation between you and the people you meet on the way. 

By all means, keep moving your body and say hello to your fellow humans. Just keep your distance.  

Disclaimer: This information was accurate as of the time of publication. Directives are changing rapidly so please follow any newly released advisories from our municipal, provincial and federal leaders and public health officials.