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Seeking normalcy

Many people were out and about Wednesday afternoon at the Alameda Open Space in the North Valley. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Though a spreading coronavirus has turned the world upside down, leading to business closures and stay-at-home orders, a bike ride in the bosque or a jog in the foothills is still, well, the same as it’s always been.

And it appears many residents are flocking to the great outdoors for a sense of normalcy. Trailheads in Albuquerque the past two weeks appear to be drawing large numbers of people.

“Everyone is keeping social distance, and you don’t see people in groups of five or more. But there are just tons of people,” said Glenn Maxwell, a retired Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office deputy who was getting set for a bike ride on the Paseo del Bosque Trail from the Alameda Open Space parking lot Wednesday afternoon. “They’ve got to get out and feel normal about something.”

And it makes sense, Maxwell said.

His career in law enforcement included being a critical incident management instructor, teaching police officers how to bring structure to such chaotic situations as a mass evacuation.

“People look for those things that can bring normalcy to their lives,” he said, and it’s no different in the face of the coronavirus outbreak. “It disrupts people’s lives. So if they can get a little routine and structure, it helps. That makes them feel safe and that’s why they keep coming.”

A walk or jog – though no group hikes – is one of the few activities left for people in the wake of recent public health orders. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Tuesday instructed people across the state to stay home expect for outings necessary for health, safety and welfare.

Glenn Maxwell and his wife, Nam, get ready to hit the bike trail Wednesday at the Alameda Open Space.

A trip outside to walk or jog is still permissible, according to the Department of Health’s website. But a packed parking lot or a crowded narrow trail could allow the virus to spread, state health officials say.

“The order does not mean that people can’t go outside at all. It’s important for folks to get fresh air and stretch their legs, walk their dogs. But you shouldn’t go outside with a group of people. If you go somewhere to go outside and the parking lot is packed with folks, that is not social isolating. So stay home,” said David Morgan, a spokesman for the Department of Health. “If you were to go hiking on a trail that is narrow and would require you to get close to someone to pass them, the virus could be spread in that brief close encounter with someone. New Mexicans should stay at home unless it is absolutely necessary.”

Fleeing ‘doom and gloom’

A parking lot by the Michael Emory trailhead, off Spain NE and east of Tramway, has been full at times since social distancing requirements started.

The foothills trails in Albuquerque connect to the Cibola National Forest and National Grasslands. Forest officials announced that while some of its developed recreation sites and bathrooms are closed, its lands are open to visitors for “dispersed recreation.”

The city of Albuquerque is waiving fees at some Open Space areas that require them, including the Elena Gallegos area in the foothills. Playgrounds are closed, but city parks remain open, according to the city’s website.

As the parking lot of the Alameda/Rio Grande Open Space shows, many residents are heading to the great outdoors amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

While the city’s trails are technically open, officials are asking people to visit them for exercise and then quickly return home, said Philip Clelland, a spokesman for the city’s Parks and Recreation department. He said groups are limited to five people and social distancing is required.

“Exercise and fresh air are important, but we are imploring people to comply with the (state’s) stay-at-home instructions as much as possible,” he said.

In fact, there have been issues in New Mexico with too many visitors to some recreation areas.

State officials issued a statement Wednesday saying that several Native American pueblos have seen an influx in visitors to their recreation areas, potentially putting the communities at risk because of their limited health and public safety resources. At this time, pueblos are closed to the public, according to state officials.

“While state roads remain open, we ask the traveling public not to get out of their vehicles on pueblo or reservation land,” the Department of Transportation said in a news release. “The stay-at-home advisory is in effect until April 10 and no trips to recreational sites in pueblo communities are allowed.”

Inside Albuquerque city limits, the parking lot to access the bosque at Alameda around lunch on Wednesday was nearly full. Just outside the lot, Thalia and David Powell were eating on a shaded bench next to the paved bike path.

Thalia and David Powell enjoy lunch Wednesday at the Alameda Open Space. “You can get a little cabin fever not leaving the house,” Thalia said. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

“We’re just looking for a place outside to eat and enjoy nature,” Thalia said. “You can get a little cabin fever not leaving the house.”

And with many businesses closed or employees working from home, people have the time to take a hike.

Van and Mary Hartley were walking their dogs, Ali and Zoey, along a bosque trail Wednesday afternoon. Van, a salesman, is working from home, but he said business is slow, with many places shut down.

“We come out for lunch and do a little walk. They say exercise helps build up your immunity,” he said during his constitutional. “It gets you away from television, and coronavirus doom and gloom.”

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