For many East Texans, Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of summer. That means it’s time to hitch up the boat and head to the lake, river or beach. For others it presents an opportunity to spend some time roaming the forests and camping under the stars at one of the many state parks or national forests in East Texas.
Outdoor recreational activities offer a great escape, even in times of a global pandemic. But lurking just beneath the surface of all that fun and freedom you feel while basking in the great outdoors is a potential danger far more worrisome than COVID-19.
People across the country have been stuck inside for weeks, going a little more stir crazy with each passing day. From this point forward we would encourage East Texans to be careful and to refrain from doing anything stupid — boating while intoxicated and some of the water safety violations come to mind, for example.
And something else to remember: Not all has returned to normal. While restrictions on outdoor activities may have eased, that doesn’t mean all the parks, boat ramps, beaches, swimming areas, camp sites and trails have reopened. Plan ahead and check with the appropriate state or federal agency to make sure the recreation area you plan on visiting is open and available for use.
For the landlubbers in the group, that means social distancing remains key. However, one of the great things about being outside is that the virus is more quickly diluted and therefore less infectious than inside, where air volume is more limited.
The outdoors also provides its own natural aromatherapy that boosts your immune system when you breathe in the fresh air. Scientific studies have shown that breathing in phytoncide, airborne chemicals produced by plants, increases the levels of white blood cells and helps fight off infections and diseases.
For those who prefer spending time on the water, the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department offers four basic precautions for boaters of any age:
■ Wear a life jacket.
■ Use the ignition safety switch. Commonly called a “kill switch,” it stops the engine if you fall overboard so you won’t be stranded or run over by your boat.
■ Learn how to swim. It sounds so simple. If you don’t know how to swim, learn. And don’t put yourself in jeopardy by taking unnecessary risks, especially if you are impaired or unfamiliar with the water conditions.
There have been 23 drownings so far this year. There were 87 statewide in 2019.
■ Closely supervise children.
Resources for a wide range of boater education and safety training, including a free online paddle craft safety course, are available at the TPWD boater ed web page (tpwd.texas.gov/education/boater-education/).
However you choose to enjoy the great outdoors this holiday weekend, please continue to follow local, state and federal guidelines on staying safe.