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Explore your neighborhood to escape COVID-19 boredom

By Joe Miller | April 21, 2020 | 6 min read | Healthy Lifestyle

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How well do you know your neighborhood?

Maybe you know where the nearest store is. If you have kids, you may know of a nearby park or two, and where the schools are. But beyond that?

Chances are your neighborhood is a lot more interesting than you may realize. And now, with a statewide “shelter in place” order in effect, it’s the perfect time to acquaint yourself. One of the exemptions to stay-at-home is getting out for exercise — as long as you observe social distancing guidelines. Keep at least six feet from the nearest person.

What’s the best way to start learning about your neighborhood?

When I moved to a new neighborhood nearly four years ago, one of the first things I did was call up Google Maps and see what surrounded me. I started with everything within a mile, and found: a State Natural Area with more than 3 miles of trail, a county park with about 2 miles of trail, and a 3-mile greenway that connected with another 3 miles of trail held by two land trusts.

Venturing out to 3 miles I found three sections of a university forest with a collective 4 miles of trail, and another county park with 2 miles. Seventeen miles of trail, without even getting in my car!

That was just the tip of the iceberg. In exploring these trails I discovered other natural areas that were undeveloped and offered an even purer form of adventure.

Starting with Google Maps was a great introduction to the neighborhood I didn’t know.

Here are some basic pointers to help you get started:

  • Begin with a distance you’re comfortable walking, keeping in mind that you’ll be walking back as well. To determine distances, call up Google Maps, then, in the menu bar, click on “Your Places.” Click on “Maps,” then “Create Map.” You’ll get a map of the U.S.: keep double clicking on “North Carolina” until you get down to your neighborhood. Then use the distance tool — ruler icon — to determine crow-fly distances from where you live.
  • Look for splotches of green. They may be golf courses or cemeteries, or they may be parks. Keep in mind that while some parks are closed, many have closed only rec centers, restrooms, playgrounds and other physical facilities. Their trails and open fields may still be open.
  • Look for green dashed lines. Green dashed lines indicate a natural surface hiking trail.
  • Search for solid green lines. These often indicate a paved walking trail.
  • Look for green pins with trees in them. Some parks are marked with these.
  • Look for streams and creeks. Greenways and trails sometimes parallel waterways. Even if there aren’t actual trails, you may find fishing paths or game trails that offer access. Even if these paths don’t go far, they make for a nice diversion into the natural world.

If you don’t have much experience exploring on foot, ease into it. Start with a walk around the block. Take the time to see what’s happening in your immediate neighborhood. Pay attention to vacant lots and ditches.

So much is growing as spring gets underway (including the three-leaved menaces of poison ivy and oak, and to a lesser extent, sumac. Remember, “leaves of three, let it be”).

As you become more comfortable, expand your range. Check out one of the green splotches or lines that appeared on your Google Map search. Acquaint yourself with the flora around you. Several smartphone apps allow you to take a picture of a plant, then tell you what it is.

Don’t worry about how far you’re going. Start simple, start nearby. Simply being outside has been shown to provide a host of healthy benefits, from giving you your vital daily dose of Vitamin D (which helps stave off osteoporosis and reduces inflammation, among other benefits), to reducing stress and anxiety.

Throw in a walk, and this could be one of the best things you do for yourself as we ride out the pandemic.

For more information on exploring your neighborhood, check out Joe Miller’s just-released “Explore Your Neighborhood: A Guide to Discovering the World Immediately Around You in These Shelter-in-Place Times,” a 55-page guide covering everything from what you’ll need (good news: you probably already have it), to scouting your neighborhood with Google Maps (with an in-depth, step-by-step description) to what to look for and how to tell what it is you’re looking at. Available on Amazon, here. You can also find additional information on getting out in the age of coronavirus at