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Several people took advantage of the fresh air and sunshine on Wednesday afternoon, which is encouraged by local health officials despite the state’s stay at home order.

While many non-essential businesses will remain closed through at least April 7 and school buildings remain closed through May 1, the sidewalks, trails and recreational areas across Huntington County were alive with people enjoying the outdoors.

“I would highly recommend people getting outside during this stay at home order,” Public Health Nurse Emily Schamehorn with the Huntington County Health Department said. “As long as you practice social distancing while exercising, it is a great idea.”

City of Huntington Mayor Richard Strick says he wants residents to be outside in fresh air, but to remember to keep safety first.

“Along with the Governor, I would encourage Huntington residents to make use of porches, backyards, front yards, driveways, trails, and open areas in parks to get fresh air during the Governor’s stay-at-home order,” said Strick. “The key is to continue practicing social distancing while you’re outside and to make sure you wash your hands carefully before and after you leave your home. Fresh air and connecting with nature is vital for our health in the best of times, it becomes even more critical during times of stress like we’re experiencing.”

Holly Paduga and her three daughters enjoyed a hike along one of Salamonie Lake’s nature trail where they spotted a blue heron flying over the lake. Paduga, a resident of Marion, Indiana in Grant County where three COVID-19 cases were confirmed as of Wednesday, decided to give her daughters some real world application by taking them out into nature.

“Since they’re home with the schools closed, we wanted to do something different,” said Paduga. “The sun is shining. We wanted to get outside and learn about science.”

The activity is a great way to reduce stress, according to Schamehorn, which in turn can reduce the risk of contracting a serious illness.

“Exercising is beneficial physically, mentally, and emotionally,” Schamehorn said. “Exercising is not only good for your heart, but it has been proven to boost your immune system. Exercise is also a great way to reduce stress. Stress hormones can increase your chances for severe illness so exercising is a great way to reduce your risk for illness.”

Governor Eric J. Holcomb says his executive order, which restricts Hoosiers from non-essential travel, is important to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus, which has already killed 14 Indiana residents since March 16. Although the “stay at home” order’s name might sound like a suggestion to stay indoors all day, there are exceptions, including health and well-being.

“We’re just out here playing pickle ball,” said Huntington resident Doug Homan who was out with friends enjoying the weather at Memorial Park’s tennis court, all practicing the six feet of separation rule. “You can’t be cooped up inside all day.”

Schamehorn suggests bike riding, taking a walk, playing I-spy, going on a hike and any other other activities where social distancing – maintaining six feet from others – can be practiced.

“Exercising can also help with depression, anxiety and cabin fever. Just getting outside and getting some sun and fresh air are great for you mentally,” Schamehorn said. “Right now our worlds are so small and exist only within our homes. Getting outside makes our world bigger and brighter!”

Salamonie Lake is currently open and free to the public, along with all other DNR properties across the state. Although some of their amenities are shut down due to the coronavirus epidemic, the trails, campgrounds and other areas remain open.

State parks, state forests, fish and wildlife areas, nature preserves and state recreation areas are all open in a limited capacity. Families will be able to go outside and take a walk, run or bike ride, but they should continue to practice social distancing by remaining 6 feet away from other people.

The entrance fees at all of the DNR properties have been temporarily suspended.

According to Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Indiana DNR-managed trails and campgrounds at Salamonie, J.E. Roush, Brookville, Mississinewa, Cecil M. Harden (Racoon SRA), Cagles Mill (Lieber SRA), Patoka and Monroe lakes (campgrounds, wildlife areas, and boat ramps) remain open. However, public facilities managed directly by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at or below the dams at these lakes (tailwater areas, observation mounds, etc.) are closed.

Campgrounds remain open at this time, but advance reservations are required. No walk-ins are permitted. Indiana DNR says they will waive fees for cancellations for anyone who would prefer to cancle or reschedule reservations due to COVID-19.

“We are committed to waiving fees for cancellations or transfers of reservations and to issuing refunds as requested for campsites held through April 30, 2020,” said James Brindle, DNR Communications Director. “This time frame may be extended as the COVID-19 status evolves.”

All indoor and outdoor public programs and special events are postponed through April 30. There will be virtual programming added through social media. The DNR calendar at calendar.dnr.IN.gov will include details and times.

“We will continue to implement recommendations from the Indiana State Department of Health and will follow other directives from the State of Indiana regarding any future closures or cancellations,” Brindle said. “Notifications of any changes will be provided directly to guests and groups with reservations, and added to our property advisories webpage and the DNR calendar.”