An early 20th century painting by Franz von Stuck, called A Swing in the Woods, depicts a red-haired woman, naked with buttocks exposed, enjoying a sling hung between two trees in a wooded, secluded area. To her right is a male figure, also nude, with arms raised in a pushing motion. A Swing in the Woods, ca.1912, by Franz von Stuck (1863-1928).
Franz von Stuck's 'A Swing in the Woods,' circa 1912, depicts an idyllic scene that it's recommended you never try to recreate in any North Carolina public park. (Photo by: PHAS/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

The pandemic brought many North Carolinians into a newfound love of the outdoors, one of the few outlets that remained both relatively safe and accessible to the public. 

But along with this enthusiasm for nature, be it hiking, camping, rafting or just sitting on a sun-warmed rock, come responsibilities that former couch potatoes may not know. In that spirit, here are a few “Do’s and Don’ts” for new nature enthusiasts to follow while getting acquainted with the great outdoors. 

DO

  • Wear or bring the proper gear for the activity. This may seem elementary, but newbies to nature can be unaware of the safety issues improper shoes, clothing or equipment can pose. If you’re going hiking, opt for hiking boots or sandals over fashionable clogs. A great Instagram look isn’t worth a twisted ankle. If you’re planning on getting in a river or a stream, water sandals provide better traction on slippery rocks and protect your soles from cuts.
  • Explore safely. Pay attention to trail ratings, which are Easy, Intermediate, Difficult and Expert. A ranking of Easy denotes 1-2 miles with easy terrain and little elevation. Moderate means 2-4 miles with some rocky terrain and an incline change. A Difficult rating is usually 4-plus miles and has steep climbs and strenuous descents. Expert ratings are for those who expect rocky, steep terrain, and delight in challenges like using rocks or tree roots as handholds to pull themselves up at varying points in the trail, or fjording creeks. A good rule of thumb is for beginners not to push too hard, too fast until they are familiar with the trail. 
  • Observe wildlife. The best times to see our animal friends are close to dawn or in the evening, when they’re most active. Be quiet, still, patient, and have your camera ready.

DON’T

  • Poach. The woods are filled with gorgeous plants and animal specimens, but it’s largely illegal to take them home with you. The ecosystem is delicate; simply appreciate the beauty, take a photo, and leave it to be enjoyed by others as well. 
  • Litter. Anything you brought to nature with you should also return home with you, unless you see a marked and maintained trash can. 
  • Interact with or feed wildlife. The woods are not a Disney movie, and this can be as dangerous for you as for the animal, especially in spring or other seasons of heightened activity. Appreciate them from a safe distance. 
  • Get naked. This should go without saying, but aside from the risks of poison ivy, bug stings, and potentially shocked fellow hikers, the laws of public nudity still apply.

“I always say leave nature as it is, because we don’t want to stop the natural ecosystems from thriving. We want to ensure future generations get to enjoy the beauty that our natural world brings to us,”  Matthew Morgan, an environmental educator at Mecklenburg County’s Stevens Creek Nature Center, told Cardinal & Pine. 

That’s good advice for all to remember!