Rebecca Jewett

When Gov. Jared Polis issued a state of emergency related to the COVID-19 outbreak in early March, the outdoors became crowded and seemed like a frightening place, an environment where people could transmit the virus. We were asked to #StayHome.

As research emerged, the outdoors quickly became safer, especially when social distancing guidelines were followed. It still had its risks, but nowhere near the dangers of being indoors, around crowds, or in densely populated areas. Aside from the research, there was another reason people sought respite outside — the isolation was too much to bear.

This combination is leading to a surge in advice encouraging us to #GetOutside.

At the beginning of June, Gov. Polis evolved his safer at home order to include the “Vast, Great Outdoors.” He cited that Colorado has millions of acres of accessible federal land, municipal parks, state parks, county open spaces, and other areas that allow for stronger social distancing in the great outdoors.

We know people are turning to the outdoors during their time of need. They are turning to places like Ute Valley, Red Rock Canyon, Stratton, Mueller and Cheyenne Mountain State Parks, Garden of the Gods, Pikes Peak, and Bear Creek, to name just a few. These signature landscapes define not simply our city, but an entire regional community. They form our collective identity as Coloradans. As core community assets, they are the heart and soul of who we are and why we choose to live here.

Since 1977, Palmer Land Trust has protected nearly 136,000 acres of land, including 20 public parks and open spaces, thousands of acres of working farms and ranches that provide local food, and panoramas and scenic corridors that are the inspiring backdrop to our daily lives. We are working to ensure that these lands, and all the benefits they provide, remain protected forever.

During this pandemic, it’s clear the outdoors have become a beacon of calm in the storm, a place of physical, emotional, and mental release to the stresses of the world. This movement outside has shined new light on the critical importance of land, trails, and the region’s outdoor escapes. Could it be that the pandemic spurs our region to look for ways to nurture and create more green space for its people? History tells us so.

Throughout the 1800s, recurring cholera outbreaks left a lasting mark not only in terms of death tolls but also in inspiring urban design concepts such as expansive green space and parks that transformed New York and other major cities.

Landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted advocated for the healing powers of parks, which he thought could act like urban lungs as “outlets for foul air and inlets for pure air.” Olmsted believed in the importance of open spaces to allow people to access fresh air and sunlight. Planning for Central Park, which would be designed by Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, began soon after New York’s second cholera outbreak.

Olmsted went on to design more than 100 public parks and recreation grounds including those in Boston, Buffalo, Chicago and Detroit.

How will the COVID-19 pandemic impact southern Colorado?

While recovery of the public, private, and nonprofit sectors is a top priority, let us not forget that which has provided light in darkness. Nature. Together, through drought, wildfire, flood and now, disease, our community has remained resilient. Let this moment remind us that land, too, is essential to our identity, economy, health and well-being.

Rebecca Jewett is the president and CEO of Palmer Land Trust.

Rebecca Jewett is the President and CEO of Palmer Land Trust. Palmer Land Trust is committed to protecting southern Colorado's lands for present and future generations.

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