Recreate Responsibly

The Mask Mandate for Federal Public Lands

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On January 20, 2021, President Biden signed an executive order stating, ” It is the policy of my Administration to halt the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) by relying on the best available data and science-based public health measures. Such measures include wearing masks when around others, physical distancing, and other related precautions recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).” the order goes on to say, ” Accordingly, to protect the Federal workforce and individuals interacting with the Federal workforce, and to ensure the continuity of Government services and activities, on-duty or on-site Federal employees, on-site Federal contractors, and other individuals in Federal buildings and on Federal lands should all wear masks, maintain physical distance, and adhere to other public health measures, as provided in CDC guidelines.”

What does this mean for enjoying federal public lands like National Forests, National Parks, and US Army Corps of Engineer lakes and lands in Arkansas? The answer looks like it’s not really a lot of difference from how we have been expected to enjoy these places during the past 11 months. The key in the order is the last line quoted above, “CDC guidelines.”

If you go to the CDC guidelines on mask-wearing and social distancing you’ll find this:

What you need to know

    • People age 2 and older should wear masks in public settings and when around people who don’t live in their household.​

    • When you wear a mask, you protect others as well as yourself. Masks work best when everyone wears one.

    • A mask is NOT a substitute for social distancing. Masks should still be worn in addition to staying at least 6 feet apart, especially when indoors around people who don’t live in your household.

    • Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol after touching or removing your mask.

    • Masks may not be necessary when you are outside by yourself away from others, or with other people who live in your household. However, some localities may have mask mandates while out in public, please check for the rules in your locality.

The final bullet point (bolded) is the key to outdoor enjoyment. This was updated back in December, prior to the new administration, so it’s really nothing new, just making sure that all federal agencies are on the same page and following the CDC guidelines. This way, when you are on federal land, you will know what rules you are expected to follow during the COVID-19 health crisis.

This directive does not affect state or locally managed public lands like state, regional, or city parks or public buildings. We recommend that you contact the management of those areas to understand locally enforced requirements. (You can understand more about the differences in our article on “Know Your Recreational Land Agency” article.)

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So continue to enjoy the outdoors in Arkansas, be safe, follow the few rules laid out for COVID-19 safety and we’ll see you on the trail.

Below is a video that helps explain this from the folks at RV Miles.


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