The Rom family had a long list of things to do Saturday to celebrate daughter Jadzia’s fifth birthday.
Toward the top of the list (along with presents and cake) was taking a hike at Hitchcock Nature Center.
“We’ve been trying to get out at least every other day to some sort of trail or the woods,” Matt Rom said. “Somewhere where we can get some exercise, just because we’re kind of going stir-crazy.”
The family isn’t alone. Parks, trails, neighborhood sidewalks have been busy as the city shuts down and people seek fresh air and a break from the anxiety created by the coronavirus.
“I have never seen more people walking/jogging (in midtown Omaha),” said Rose O’Connor Janousek.
Getting outdoors, even though other people are around, is safe as long as you practice social distancing, said Phil Rooney, a spokesman for the Douglas County Health Department.
“We are suggesting it takes about 10 minutes of exposure within 6 feet of an infected person to become infected yourself,” Rooney said. “Just walking past someone will not do it. No reason to worry about following in someone’s trail, either.”
The Janouseks — Rose, husband Rob and son Harry — explored Omaha’s Elmwood Park Sunday, visiting the grotto and a nearby magnificent swamp white oak tree. In these anxious days, a piece of graffiti reassured her, Rose Janousek said. “You are made of infinite love,” someone scrawled, along with a heart, in the tunnel at the grotto.
Kurt Goetzinger, who owns the land where the Benson Community Garden is planted, said his day was brightened when he stopped to talk to a man he thought was a new member of the Benson garden group.
No, the man said, he’s not a member. His church was closed, and he needed a beautiful place to pray.
“We had a short, friendly conversation, and he returned to his peace,” Goetzinger posted on Facebook. “This really brought a smile to my face and joy to my heart.”
With theaters, restaurants, schools, shops and some golf courses closed, parks and nature areas remain one of the few things open. The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and some of Nebraska’s Natural Resources Districts are encouraging people to get outdoors and enjoy those facilities that remain open.
Game and Parks suggests that people fish, boat, hike, picnic and even camp. Its restroom facilities are open, but many other facilities are closed.
And while parks are open, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources has some suggestions: Avoid popular places where people might congregate, such as scenic overlooks and playgrounds. And bring extra soap or hand sanitizer. In Iowa, restrooms don’t open for the season until April 15.
And like other health officials, parks officials ask that people who are sick stay home.
As the Roms pulled out of Hitchcock, they passed a parking lot that had filled up during their hike. Matt Rom said the family didn’t have any issues with social distancing while on the trails at Hitchcock, a 1,268-acre nature area in the Loess Hills of Pottawattamie County.
“It’s nice that we have these spaces that are big enough that you can get out there and still be spread out,” he said.
“Every time we’ve gotten out, it’s been really good,” Rom said. “It sort of resets my brain, I can come back a little refreshed and think a little clearer.”