Plan ahead for summer-fun safety

As the weather gets warmer many people venture outdoors to take advantage of all the opportunities offered by Virginia’s State Parks, the George Washington & Jefferson National Forests and many sites run by the National Park Service like Shenandoah National Park.

Whether hiking, biking, canoeing, kayaking, climbing or camping there are some simple things to keep in mind when participating in outdoor activities. The information below is intended merely to help you think about how to prepare for where you are going and what you are doing.

Whether you are planning on a short day trip or an overnight excursion, make sure you are prepared and that someone knows what your planned route is. Also check the weather for the area you are planning to visit since it may be different from where you live. The Ten Essentials, a list developed in the 1930s to help prepare mountaineers and outdoorsmen for the unexpected outdoors, is a good place to begin. You may not need to carry all the items on the list but it is a good reference. At a minimum you should carry water, food, proper clothing and/or rain gear, a map and flashlight.

The Ten Essentials:

– Navigation (map, compass, GPS- don’t forget extra batteries)

– Sun protection and insect repellent

– Extra Clothing or rain gear

– Flashlight with extra batteries

– First-aid supplies

– Fire

– Repair kit and tools

– Food

– Water

– Emergency shelter

If you are planning on staying out overnight, two important things to remember are fire and bears. In campgrounds and campsites, use the provided fire rings and good judgment when deciding to start a fire. Clear the area of any excess leaves and other things that could catch fire easily. If you are planning on bringing your own firewood it is a good idea to check with the park you are planning on going to since there are quarantines in place to prevent the spread of insects like the emerald ash borer. Virginia State Parks do not permit firewood to be brought in from areas under quarantine for the emerald ash borer and on National Park Service sites it is preferred that wood either be purchased from within the park or a location within 35 miles of the park.

If you are planning on building a fire while backpacking or camping in a place that does not have fire rings, such as in the national forest, make sure you clear the ground and try to construct a ring to contain your fire. Look above you to make sure that there are not any dead branches or leaves that may catch fire. When backcountry camping in Shenandoah National Park, remember that open fires are not permitted so camping stoves must be used. No matter where you are, always make sure your fire is completely out before leaving by pouring water on the fire and stirring the ashes around.

While visiting a park or going outside you could spot a bear virtually anywhere (while hiking, camping, or on a nature walk). If you spot a bear:

– Maintain your distance from the bear (preferrably 200 feet or more).

– While hiking you may find yourself within 100 or less feet of a bear – make noise to make sure the bear knows you are present.

– If the bear moves closer to you, move away slowly but do not turn your back to the bear.

– Make noise and stay in groups

– Keep children close by.

– Take a detour in your route of travel but do not surround the animal.

– Consider retreating to your vehicle if it is nearby until the bear moves on.

Bears may be attracted to your food or garbage when you are picnicking or camping. To reduce the opportunity for bears to obtain food or garbage:

– Never try to feed a bear (What would you do if the bear found out you didn’t have any more?).

– Only take out food you will be using.

– Do not leave food or garbage in the open and unattended.

– Use food storage lockers or bear poles in campgrounds.

– Dispose of garbage in bear resistant trash cans and dumpsters. Do not leave garbage (bagged or not) outside of a full trash can – find another one.

– If the bear gets to food or garbage anyway, do not attempt to get it back.

When backpacking you should hang all food and items that carry a scent including soap, toothpaste and trash. The items should be placed in a bag and hung from a tree limb at least 10 feet from the ground and four feet from the nearest tree trunk. Do not store items in your tent at night regardless of where you are camping.

One other important thing to keep in mind is that cell phones do not always work in the woods or get poor reception.

For more information on outdoor recreation opportunities in Virginia visit Virginia State Parks online at, George Washington & Jefferson National Forests at and Shenandoah National Park at

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