Marcey Crosskill of Lisbon has changed her running routine from multiuse paths to roadways through Lisbon since paths have become more crowded due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Crosskill has found that it is difficult to maintain a social distance while running on popular pathways. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

LISBON — Dodging, veering, pausing, speeding up and going off-path has become a way of life for runners as COVID-19 has kicked up the popularity of trail use in Maine. Some users are even calling for closing trails out of safety concerns.

In Lisbon, the scenic Androscoggin River Trail is a high-traffic path these days, with its parking lot often overflowing with cars on weekends. Its popularity has led a few local runners to call for it to be shut down. Runner Marcey Crosskill of Lisbon no longer uses it because of safety concerns.

“There is no way people could possibly socially distance,” she said recently.

When Crosskill tried to voice her concerns on Lisbon’s Facebook page, she said her post was denied. Then, she contacted Town Manager Diane Barnes, asking her to consider closing the path.

In an email, Barnes said the town posted notices at trailheads instructing runners to follow distancing guidelines from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Barnes said the town would assess the situation daily.

Runners and trail users in the more populated areas of the state have been forced to deal with heavier use by the general public as other recreational options such as city and state parks and beaches have been closed due to restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

In Portland, city officials have recommended stepping off the path when approaching others and to use the trails during off-peak hours.

Portland Parks Director Alex Marshall called the trails “a vital piece of everybody’s lives at this time where there is not a lot for folks to do.”

Marshall said closing the spaces may be counterproductive.

“We call it the whack-a-mole effect,” he said. If the city closes one park, they would probably have to close them all since there are not resources to patrol and uphold that mandate, he said.

Amby Burfoot, former editor of Runner’s World magazine and winner of the 1968 Boston Marathon, has thousands of road miles behind him. He said with more people on trails and pathways, now is “a good time to explore new running routes” and also suggested using a mask, which he called “slightly uncomfortable but not a major hindrance.”

Health experts say masks are a good idea for runners on populated trails because droplets from sneezes, coughs and even exhales can travel up to 15 feet behind them. Experts say the coronavirus is spread primarily through the air.

In March, Maine’s largest running club suspended all group runs, which may be helping to keep Portland trails less crowded than others.

Group runs are not possible for the foreseeable future, said Mari Balow, co-leader of The Runaways Run Club in Portland, “but we are still running (separately).”

Like many other social groups, the Runaways have been maintaining some normalcy through technology. Balow has been hosting “Zoom runs” and encouraging runners to join in during their runs through their own neighborhoods for verbal motivation.

“Just hearing somebody else’s voice, you don’t realize how much of a difference it makes until you don’t have it,” Balow said.

Recently, the group announced it will resume regularly scheduled summer group runs “under a few rules and restrictions to keep everyone safe.” 

Mariette Hanlon of Lisbon runs the Papermill Trail in Lisbon four to five days each week. Hanlon said that the increased pedestrian traffic on the multiuse trail does not bother her. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Instead of Zoom runs, Burfoot has been walking in the woods near his house in rural Connecticut and discovered a network of trails he didn’t know existed.

With no races coming up any time soon, now is a good time to relax, Burfoot said . “Keep exercising and getting that stress relief,” he said, “but don’t force yourself to run six miles today (just) because six miles is on some training program.”

Back in Lisbon, some residents are pleased to see people exercising outdoors, even if it means more crowded trails. Mariette Hanlon, a runner and clinical social worker, said she is hopeful that families will continue enjoying the Androscoggin River Trail even after the pandemic is over.

If the path closes, families with children would be forced onto the roads, she said. “I think that’s more dangerous than allowing them to use their own judgment,”

Hanlon said that in the early morning she can often avoid other runners. “It’s about knowing the patterns of behavior and working around it.”

And if that trail is still too crowded, there are other trails in Lisbon as well as Lisbon’s Beaver Park, which, with a number of wooded trails, often gets overlooked.

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