As the days grow warmer, telltale signs of summer in the Wood River Valley—grills firing up, sprinklers fanning over lawns—make it easy, perhaps for just a moment, to forget the past few months of isolation.

    The good news is that many of our favorite outdoor summer activities are still fair game, local health experts say.

    “Spending time outside is far safer than staying indoors. I think people can feel reassured by that,” said Dr. Brent Russell, an emergency physician at St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center. “That being said, an abundance of caution never hurts.”

Plan your picnic

    Meeting up with people outside of your household? Follow the CDC’s 6-foot rule—for reference, the average human arm span is just under 6 feet from fingertip to fingertip.

    Ideally, each household “pod” should pack their own food, beverages and condiments, says Dr. Frank Batcha, a family physician and chief of staff at St. Luke’s Wood River. (For a competitive challenge, have each household test out the same recipes and compare end results.) If a dish is to be shared among several people, Batcha said, don’t use a communal spoon or ladle—instead, elect a designated server.

    “Sharing utensils is an absolute no in my mind,” he said.

    Practicing good hygiene both in and outside the kitchen is also essential.

    “Of course, you should be using hand sanitizer frequently and taking care not to touch your face,” he said, “but people also need to be practicing good hygiene while preparing food, especially if it’s to be shared. You don’t want someone coughing in the potato salad.”

    Another recommendation: Opt for a barbecue, selecting a grill master to dole out hamburgers and hot dogs using a limited-contact “to-go” model.

    “Food coming hot off the grill is generally going to be safer to consume,” Batcha said. “Just make sure to wipe down ancillary parts of a [public] grill beforehand, like the handles on the sides.”

    That also goes for public benches, picnic tables and porta-potties.

    “It’s a good idea to wipe down any shared surface with disinfectant wipes beforehand,” he said.  

    Playground equipment should also be wiped down before use, according to Russell, and campground and park restroom facilities should be approached with caution.

    “I’d suggest first propping open the door to let the bathroom air out,” he said. “When someone goes into an enclosed space and coughs or sneezes, that aerosol—their viral load—can hang around for hours, whereas outside it will dissipate.”

    Can’t find Clorox wipes at the store? Homemade wipes will suffice. Just pour five tablespoons of bleach into an empty gallon milk jug and fill with water, soak rags or paper towels in the solution and pack in freezer bags to go. (For an alternate solution, the CDC recommends a ratio of seven cups of 91 percent isopropyl alcohol per three cups of water.)

Play hard, play safe

    If your social circle would like to engage in a group cardiovascular activity like Ultimate Frisbee or trail running, the more space, the better, Batcha says.

    “If you’re exercising, you’ll want to spread out more than 6 feet,” he said. “Respiratory droplets can actually travel a greater distance when you’re breathing harder and exhaling more forcefully.”

    Other, less risky outdoor games include croquet and singles badminton, as long as equipment is wiped down before and after use. If you’re looking for an open space to play, try Atkinson Park in Ketchum or Keefer Park in Hailey. Swimming in the Big Wood River and hiking are also safe activities, Russell said, as long as those from different homes keep their distance.

    Among the best-known swimming holes in the valley are Big Rock behind the Big Wood Church in Ketchum, Hospital Bridge just south of Ketchum and the bend in the river just north of Heagle Park in Hailey. (Note that the Big Wood can harbor dangerous currents and no lifeguards are present.)

    If you’re looking to get out of town for a hike, try Titus Lake Trail near Galena Summit, the Idaho Centennial Trail alongside the secluded Chemeketan Campground or the Redfish Lake Trail near Stanley. Looking for an easier, more local trek? Ketchumites can scale the tall ridge adjacent to the Warm Springs SNRA parking lot for rewarding views of Baldy; in Hailey, you can climb Buttercup Hill for a birds-eye view of the airport; and further south in Bellevue, you can spot elk and deer from the trails looping around Howard Preserve.

    If you come into contact with another party while hiking, Russell says, simply step off the trail to let them pass.

    “In general, you want to create as much physical distance as you can. Someone breathing in your direction won’t put out much of a viral load,” he said. “But say someone coughs, and you walk into that cloud of microscopic respiratory mucus, which has higher concentration of viruses. That’s riskier.”

    Batcha said if you pull into a crowded trailhead or parking lot, you may want to move to Plan B or C.

    “We’ve got plenty of space, plenty of mountains to go to. There are many recreational opportunities elsewhere in the valley,” he said.

“Best” picks*

    For your next family picnic outing, pack some locally sourced finger foods from the valley's best grocery stores into your cooler—cubed sheep’s milk cheese from Lemhi County on crackers, Falls Brand franks from Twin Falls wrapped in bacon, or chicharrones—“pork cracklins”—from Wood River Tortilla Factory in Bellevue. Fresh produce is never a bad idea, either.

    Running short on time? Pick up some Just Veggies wraps from Wrap City—voted number one for Best “To-Go” Grub—and shredded chicken Machaca burritos from La Cabañita (pictured, Voted Best Mexican Restaurant), divide into quarters and serve with toothpicks. Bring along your favorite entrée, some Sun Valley Mustard (pictured, Best Local Product) and some Bigwood Bread oatmeal raisin cookies (pictured, Best Bakery) for dessert.

    Want to transport your wine in style? Pick up a bottle of SLO Jams Sauvignon Blanc from Sun Valley Wine Co., voted Best Wine Shop, and keep it chilled in a Packit freezable wine bag. For the full deal, invest in a Picnic at Ascot deluxe picnic cooler, which comes with a built-in wine glass set, hardwood cheese board and coordinating melamine plates. A waterproof Picnic at Ascot blanket will also provide a cozy fleece buffer between you and the ground. (All that’s available at Ketchum Kitchens, voted the valley’s Best Gift Shop and number one for Customer Service.)

    Heading on a hike after eating? Make sure to snag some nutrient-dense snacks, like salmon and mackerel snack packs from Backwoods, this year’s Best Outdoor Gear Shop, or Kate’s Real Food energy bars from Ketchum Kitchens. If you tire easily, a lightweight TravelChair collapsible tripod camp stool (under $25 at Backwoods) can give you a much-needed breather.

*Featuring this year’s winners

Email the writer: ejones@mtexpress.com

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