CORONAVIRUS

Happy trails to you? Yes, if you keep your distance

Walking is free and it can be freeing

A gravel trail is the entry way to the day-use area of Morgan Creek Park in Palo. (B.A. Morelli/The Gazette)
A gravel trail is the entry way to the day-use area of Morgan Creek Park in Palo. (B.A. Morelli/The Gazette)

About that curve we’re trying to flatten: I’ve been ahead of it.

I’ve long enjoyed walking as not only exercise, but social distancing. I did the health club thing in a past phase of my life. That worked for me because I was motivated ... to get my money’s worth out of the membership.

The downside was that the club was busy and people were all over the place. I’d usually just end up on a treadmill, anyhow.

To me, a great city has to have an affirmative answer to this question: Is it a good walking town? New York, Chicago, San Francisco all fill that bill. They have other features people enjoy, too, I’m told. Still, it has to start with comfortable shoes being more useful than a car.

I wouldn’t call Cedar Rapids a great walking town, but it’s not bad when the weather’s at least semi-cooperative. I walk in my neighborhood or a nearby one-mile oval trail. The trouble with walking in neighborhoods or a lot of in-town trails, though, is that they aren’t wide enough for the six-feet-away rule of thumb that I prefer to double, triple, or octuple when possible.

It feels rude to suddenly cross the street when a human approaches. But I heard gunshots fired four blocks from my house several days ago, a new experience I don’t care to repeat anytime in this or any other lifetime. That makes a sudden street-cross seem like advice from Miss Manners.

Recently, I was approached — online, not on a sidewalk — by Rich Patterson, who was the director of Indian Creek Nature Center for 35 years. He suggested a column on the best walking/cycling trails in Linn County. I suggested he and his wife, Marion, submit one themselves given their expertise. You’ll find their knowledge elsewhere in today’s Gazette.

What their piece reminded me is that despite living in Cedar Rapids for most of my life, there is much here I haven’t seen. Or else I’ve just been blind to it, a reasonable assumption since I can’t tell you the colors of the houses next door to mine without looking.

Hey, it’s not like observation and recall are important in my line of work.

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Anyway, the Pattersons’ piece inspired me to get out last week and use Cedar Rapids-Marion trails I’d never seen. It was a reminder we do have a lot of nice trails, places to get some air and sun, some physical and mental refreshment.

Using a treadmill in the basement, for some reason, requires most of the energy I can summon just to get started. Going to a nice trail doesn’t seem like a labor at all.

Last Sunday I went to Prairie Park Fishery Trail off Otis Road SE in Cedar Rapids. It’s a 1.7-mile loop around a lake, it’s a nice walk, and I’ll happily go back. Just not again on a Sunday afternoon when the weather is ideal.

Nearly everyone on the trail seemed aware of keeping their distance, and kudos to them. Still, there were too many folks on it to stop my paranoia from galloping away. It was, however, inspiring to see a woman old enough to be my mother power-walking. She was there to take care of business.

I wore a mask. How efficient this particular mask was, health-wise, I have no idea. My thinking was it would let people know I was serious about the virus deal you may have heard about, and people would see that and automatically steer clear of me.

It’s fun to pretend.

On a Tuesday warm enough to break a sweat, I hit Faulkes Heritage Woods off 30th Street Drive SE in Cedar Rapids. I’d never heard of it, let alone been there. It’s a little over 100 acres in the wild, with a barely perceptible trail.

It’s all very pretty. When you’re there it kind of feels like you’re on a vacation. In the 45 minutes I was there, I was alone other than when I heard an occasional woodpecker. I’m curious to see what it’s like once the trees have leaves and you feel more enclosed.

From there I drove to the other side of Marion to Grant Wood Trail. Both sides of it are tree-lined, with fields behind the trees and Highway 13 not far away. The landscape is unremarkable and the trail is well-used, but it’s wide enough to keep the paranoia from darting away.

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Wednesday, I paid what I thought was my first visit to Morgan Creek Park in southwest Linn County, but I later was told by my spouse that we had been there together. She was a little horrified that I didn’t know that, in fact.

Nonetheless, what a great park. It has a long and winding trail, an arboretum, a campground, and more.

How I managed to walk a mile-and-a-half there before finding the actual trail is another testament to my observation skills, but the walk off the beaten path turned out to be the loneliest and best part of the trip.

The weather took a downturn Wednesday night and I spent the rest of the week closer to home. But it will be nice again soon. If you see me out on a trail, say hello.

From a distance, of course.s

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Our most important Coronavirus coverage is free to the public.

If you believe local news is essential, especially during this crisis, please donate. Your contribution will support news resources to cover the impact of the pandemic on our local communities.

All donations are tax-deductible.