Headed to the Woods

Roz Brown | Public News Service
An increase in people visiting public lands during the pandemic in 2020 led to gridlock in some states and locations, according to the U.S. Forest Service. Photo Credit: MarciaGilles / pewtrusts.org

SANTA FE, N.M. — At the height of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, Americans hit the road, with the U.S. Forest Service reporting an increase of 19 million visitors last summer over 2019 numbers.

Maureen Brooks, wildfire prevention program manager for the U.S. Forest Service, expects an equal number of people will want to get out and enjoy public lands this year. She said a list of tips has been created for those planning summer vacations in the forest.

“It’s important for folks this year, as they’re planning their summer vacations, to plan ahead,” Brooks urged. “‘Know Before You Go’ is something we like to mention to people. Have some alternative plans should there be some closures or restrictions.”

Brooks pointed to recommended tips and resources for a safe summer experience at beoutdoorsafe.org.

In 2020, the Western United States experienced a series of major wildfires, and Brooks was especially concerned visitors to public lands practice fire safety. Due to severe drought, New Mexico’s first major wildfire this year ignited in April near a campground where visitors hike to view prehistoric petroglyphs.

Brooks reminded visitors to the outdoors nine out of 10 wildfires are typically preventable.

“In our country, nationwide, about 87% of wildfires are human caused, from different things like campfires to debris burning and that sort of thing,” Brooks explained.

Brooks added campers should investigate the best time to visit their favorite public parks and trails, check for camping and fire restrictions, and have the proper equipment to extinguish a campfire. She also reminded those hauling campers or trailers to make sure they’re property attached, and would not create sparks that could start a fire.