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Social distancing not a challenge at Southern Nevada’s parks

Vast open spaces and bountiful parks in the Las Vegas Valley’s southeastern corner combine to promote social distancing and offer a diversion from life’s scrambled new paradigm.

Absent a “shelter-in-place” order amid the coronavirus outbreak, taking walks, going on hikes and riding bikes remain permissible, and there was plenty of evidence this week of people doing just those things.

A kid navigated his remote-controlled monster truck down lengthy sidewalks at Discovery Park, a mom led two young children on bikes in a Green Valley neighborhood, solo joggers got their heart rates up and couples walked their dogs around lakes at Cornerstone and Sunset parks. At Lake Mead National Recreation Area, motorists pulled into designated overlooks that maximize vistas of the lake and its dramatic geological surroundings.

“Fresh air is about the only thing to do right now,” recent Wisconsin transplant Rich Emerson said Wednesday at Sunset Park’s Dunes Discovery Area. “It’s better than being contained in your house.”

While nonessential businesses were ordered to close by noon Wednesday and indoor entertainment and recreation options suddenly evaporated, parks remained open. Entrance is free at Lake Mead, where a wildflower show plays from sunrise to sunset. But there’s no one in the visitor center to answer questions about flora and fauna or anything else because of building closures. The recreation area encompasses 1.5 million acres, so keeping 6 feet away from other people fails to be a challenge at Lake Mead. Same goes for Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area, which has trails that are easily accessible from McCullough Hills Trailhead in the east and Anthem Hills Park in the west.

“It’s definitely a time to be outside, as long as you keep your social distancing protocols in mind,” said Jim Stanger, president of Friends of Sloan Canyon. “We’re all about encouraging folks to get outside and be good stewards of the land.”

Sloan Canyon has a vast network of trails that vary in length and rarely have crowds. Signage is sparse and can be confusing, so research is advised.

“I’d like to take this opportunity to recommend birdandhike.com,” Stanger said. “Dr. Boone has the best resource out there for this area.” Stanger advises anyone who is new to hiking in the desert to carry an adequate water supply, apply sunscreen and be aware of one’s surroundings, including the potential for rattlesnakes emerging with spring’s arrival. Another thing Stanger said hikers should consider is bringing with them a small trash bag to collect litter they may find along the trails.

At busy Cornerstone Park on Tuesday afternoon, Eileen Hug, who typically frequents Sunset Park, said she and her dog, Beckett, enjoyed their stroll. She said she hopes Southern Nevadans can keep up their park-going habits during the coronavirus scare. “I hope they don’t close the parks and people are good about keeping their distance from each other,” she said.

Until recent cancellations, her routine included tai chi and dance classes several times a week, so she expects to take Beckett on more park walks in the coming weeks.

“I like going to the park because it’s away from the traffic and more peaceful,” Hug said. “The sun is supposed to be a natural disinfectant.”

Omar Hassan said he recently lost work in the limousine business and intends to head to Sunset Park most days in the coming weeks to get some exercise on the Dunes Discovery Area jogging path, which has a width of about 7 feet. “I used to come twice a week, but now maybe every day,” Hassan said. “It’s a very good, nice park. I’m happy it’s here.”

At least for now, in Southern Nevada, social distancing doesn’t need to translate into staying shut in at home. And park aficionados this week said spending a little or a lot of time in green spaces and on hiking trails are healthy mental and physical choices for them.

“I’m a Vietnam vet, and I’m 73,” Emerson said. “I’ve never seen anything like this in my whole life.” Walking with his coffee in hand, he called Sunset Park one of the best places to help people weather the coronavirus scare.

“I love this park,” he said. “I enjoy the wildlife — the jackrabbits, the coyotes, the birds.”

Scurrying and foraging Gambel’s quail, desert cottontail and black-tailed jackrabbits were easy to spot Wednesday in the last remaining mesquite dune field in the Paradise Valley area of Clark County. A greater roadrunner perched in commanding style on a railing of the dune outlook, a fresh-air space that has informational panels devoted to helping people get to know the critters and history of the place.

Natalie Burt, a former news reporter at the Review-Journal for 11 years, spends as much of her free time as possible enjoying Southern Nevada’s outdoors. She’s now a teacher and has lived in Henderson for 18 years. Email: nvburt@gmail.com.

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