As summer approaches, more people are heading out to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District parks and recreation areas. However, this year brings new safety concerns to keep in mind when recreating on USACE lands.
According to Zach Montreuil, a natural resources specialist with the Omaha District, despite the new CDC guidance for fully vaccinated individuals USACE recreation facilities still require all visitors to wear masks indoors and stay socially distanced.
“Masks are still going to be required inside buildings like visitors centers, project offices, comfort stations, restrooms, and anytime you’re outside and not maintaining a six-foot distance from other visitors,” he said.
The mask rules are different for the outdoors. When visitors are alone with their household or swimming, they can remove their masks. Although being outdoors reduces the risk of COVID-19 infection, Montreuil notes that visitors should still wear masks and stay socially distanced on crowded trails or campgrounds.
Despite the new restrictions and rules, visitors can make reservations and pay online at Recreation.gov. Visitors can reserve camping areas, pavilions, picnic shelters, and other sites. By making reservations online, visitors avoid overcrowding, creating a safer experience for all.
“If you pull up to a swimming beach for example, and it looks like there’s not really much room, or if the parking spaces are full, it’s probably good to go somewhere else, unfortunately, just to keep people safe and everything. So, we always encourage people to feel free to call the project offices to see if it’s anticipated that it’s going to be busy or not and just see current conditions,” Montreuil said.
This summer has new challenges for campers with both the Missouri Basin and Fort Peck anticipating extremely dry weather. Visitors are reminded to start fires only in approved fire rings or grills away from dry vegetation, and ensure that fires are fully extinguished before leaving. Campers should also remember to always have a shovel and bucket of water handy if they plan on starting a fire.
When starting fires at campgrounds, it is also important that visitors buy firewood locally or collect local sticks and branches instead of hauling firewood from long distances. Firewood from other areas, especially ash wood, can contain the emerald ash borer, an invasive beetle that kills ash trees.
Dry conditions are not the only weather phenomenon that campers need to pay attention to.
“We’re in an area in the plains that gets tornadoes and strong thunderstorms,” Montreuil said. “We have shelters available at most of our campground areas, but people should make sure to identify where those shelters are and what to do, and just make a quick plan in case you have to seek shelter.”
This year also brings many changes for boaters. The Coast Guard recently mandated that covered recreational vessels must have an Engine Cutoff Switch, a requirement that park rangers, local game wardens, and other officials will be enforcing.
At the Fort Peck (Montana) Reservoir in particular, the drier weather led to a lower water level than usual.
“If people are boating, they need to pay extra attention to underwater hazards that may not have been there in previous years and use caution while boating,” said Sue Dalbey, natural resources specialist, Fort Peck Interpretive Center.
As the summer goes on and more places reopen, the rules and outdoor conditions are subject to change. For the most up-to-date information, Montreuil recommends following the CDC guidance on COVID-19 regulations.
For those planning to visit Fort Peck, Dalbey recommends contacting the Interpretive Center at (406) 526 -3493 or visiting their Facebook page to learn about current hours and events.