There’s a series of trails that ramble through the woods behind Beverly’s Hannah Elementary School, paths maintained by members of the city’s Open Space and Recreation Committee. Such is the dedication of these volunteers that a recent visit saw a committee member widening a half mile of trail through a field with a push lawn mower, making several passes so walkers could pass through without fear of picking up ticks.

If only others treated the paths with such care.

The coronavirus quarantine, and the shuttering of gyms and health clubs due to contagion concerns, has pushed people into the woods for their daily exercise. According to the state, Essex County parks and beaches have seen a 207% increase in use since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Six months ago you’d go on the trails and see one or two people,” said David Alden-St. Pierre of Beverly’s open space committee. “Now there are days when you see tons of people on the trails. People were looking for a way to get outdoors. That’s what the trails are for.”

Unfortunately, many of those visitors are bringing their bad habits with them, and it’s putting access for everyone at risk.

Beverly’s trails are becoming littered with empty water, soda and beer bottles, discarded masks and Dunkin’ coffee cups. There’s fresh evidence that some people have been lighting fires in the tinder-dry woods.

“We love to see people out there,” Alden-St. Pierre told reporter Paul Leighton. “But you shouldn’t have to tell people, ‘Don’t leave trash.’”

Beverly is not alone. Hikers at Maudslay State Park in Newburyport have complained about the feces-filled dog bags that have come to line popular trails. It’s just as bad at Halibut Point State Park in Rockport. Most recently, the city of Gloucester has closed off access to the city’s quarries after dealing for weeks with large crowds, vandalism, litter and fires. Gloucester Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken said she was “angry and saddened” about how the Lanesville area of the city has been treated, and it’s not clear when — or if — the area will be reopened to the public.

That’s the risk here. It has been about a month since most local parks and trails have been reopened to the public, and already they are in danger of being closed again, not because people can’t wear a mask or practice social distancing, but because they can’t be bothered to hold on to their trash until they get back to the car.

Open space — and fresh air — is a vital resource these days. We all have a duty to make sure it remains well cared for and accessible to all.

 

 

 

 

 

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