2020 – a year we most certainly will never forget. The year has been referred to as a “dumpster fire,” a nightmare, surreal and relentless. I think we can agree that those terms are appropriate for a year marked by such profound loss. Was there any bright side? For us environmentalists, we were happy to see so many new people finding the value in nature for the first time.
With many businesses, restaurants and other indoor recreation closed due to the pandemic, families were looking for somewhere to escape to. The answer? People explored the outdoors, our national, state and local parks, in record numbers. Certain national parks saw a 9 to 21% increase in visitors this past year. And while no official data has been released on the amount of visitors to New York State’s parks in 2020, there has been plenty of local news and anecdotal stories that depict long park entrance lines that had never been seen before. There was also a surge in the purchase of camping and outdoor recreation gear.
At our Pine Barrens Society, we saw a spike in the amount of people visiting our recreation pages on our website. We also fielded countless calls from people looking to explore our Pine Barrens for the first time. We responded to this increased interest with all new recreation guides and by creating a popular #TrailFeatureFriday series on Facebook.
We know from experience that when people see and experience the beauty and value of nature first hand, they’re more likely to become environmental stewards themselves. We were happy to help people experience the Long Island Pine Barrens for the first time.
I for one, felt I got to experience the changing of the seasons like never before. I was able to spend some more time outside and felt that I noticed little natural subtleties more – noting when certain songbirds arrived to my bird feeder or the particular way certain plants bloomed in Spring. I even got to witness a family of Robins grow up in a nest in my backyard (watching from afar). These are things I surely would have missed in the daily hustle-and-bustle of my usual pre-pandemic commute.
In another win for nature, global greenhouse gas emissions plunged by roughly 2.4 billion tons last year, a 7% drop from 2019 and the biggest reduction in emissions since 1945. This was mostly caused by a decline in transportation (air travel and daily commuting). However, we can’t get too excited – scientists say this will have little to no effect on the status of climate change, especially if emissions rebound in 2021. We should strive to continue and accelerate this decline in emissions. Perhaps we should permanently adopt some of the lifestyle changes brought on by the pandemic – shop small and local, work from home when we can, and instead of driving (or in extreme cases, flying) to meetings, we should opt for remote communications instead. And of course, we should continue to invest in cleaner energy and infrastructure.
Well, it’s 2021 – what now? It’s our hope that people will continue to embrace Long Island’s beautiful outdoors. Even though it’s Winter, you can still head outside (check out our latest Winter recreation guide for some ideas). It is also our hope that those who have learned to love and appreciate nature will help us protect it. Respect nature when you’re in it and leave no trace. Make small changes at home to reduce your carbon and water footprint. Speak up for the environment. If there’s anything that 2020 taught us, it’s that nature is an invaluable resource – both for our physical and mental health. It must be protected.
By: Katie Muether Brown, Long Island Pine Barrens Society