How to enjoy LA nature during 'Safer at Home' order

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View of hiking trails, Griffith Park, and downtown LA in the distance. March 21, 2020. Photo by Amy Ta.

Angelenos are feeling shut-in due to the mayor’s “Safer at Home” order. But with fresher air (due to rain, plus fewer cars on the road) and the start of spring, tons of Angelenos spent this past weekend at beaches, parks, and hiking trails. Those places were filled to capacity -- meaning too many people too close together too often. 

In response, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and Santa Monica city officials closed the beach parking lots in Venice and Santa Monica. The Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority decided to close all of its parks and trails too. Officials have been pushing for social distancing. 

Leanne Solano and Greg Gorence hiked this weekend in Griffith Park. She tells KCRW, “This is like the only part of my day that feels normal. And then I get home, and you’re kind of hit with like, ‘Whoa, what’s going on?’”

Gorence says he was sitting in his apartment for days, so when Solano invited him on a hike, he agreed. “It still feels … safe and normal. I am like, ‘Let’s do this as long as quarantine is going on. As long as we are shut in, let’s do this as long as we can.’ ”

It’s indeed still okay to go outside -- just don’t do it in large, tightly-packed groups.

Health benefits of being outside 

Lila Higgins, community manager at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, says going outside helps reduce stress and maybe even improve the body’s natural immune system

“It’s really a nice distraction from all the stress we’re feeling around this COVID-19 pandemic. It’s really nice to be able to sit and look at a mushroom, and not have to worry about how close you’re getting because the mushroom isn’t going to get coronavirus and is not going to pass coronavirus,” she says. 

Research shows that going outside helps decrease heart and pulse rates, as well as blood pressure; lower cortisol levels (stress hormones); increases exposure to sunshine, which helps produce Vitamin D, a vitamin often associated with boosting the immune system. 

Higgins adds that being among plants and trees means exposure to phytochemicals. “When we breathe them in, they’ve been shown to be health boosters for our immune systems,” she says. 

Higgins recommends some places to go: 

Your neighborhood

The most accessible spots to visit are the streets surrounding your neighborhood, Higgins says. Due to recent rain, now is a great time to explore around your home. She says to keep an eye out for species of snails, slugs, mushroom and slime molds. 

Higgins warns, however, that it is critical to practice social distancing while walking on the sidewalks and to safely cross the street when you’re near other pedestrians.  

Stoneview Nature Center - Blair Hills

Seven of the LA County Parks and Recreation natural areas across the region are still open, including the Stoneview Nature Center in Blair HIlls near Culver City. 

Higgins warns the trails at Stoneview are narrow, and you should watch where you’re stepping: “It is hard to keep that six foot social distance, [but] we also want to protect the plants and animals along the edges of the trail.”

According to Richard Smart, the regional park superintendent, there are plans currently in development to create a clockwise route around the park to help maintain the distance between visitors of the center. 

LA River 

Higgins says certain paths along the LA River are still open, which can provide Angelenos with long trails along the nearly 51 mile historic river. 

Certain trails along the river are closed, so be sure to check with the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority before visiting. 

If you’re someone who can't go outside, Higgins says that just looking out the window at nature or looking at pictures of nature can help reduce stress.

Credits

Guest:
Lila Higgins - Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

Host:
Steve Chiotakis

Producers:
Christian Bordal, Jenna Kagel, Rebecca Mooney

Reporter:
Benjamin Gottlieb