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This fall, safely explore the great Georgia outdoors
Mark Kishel
Dr. Mark Kishel

The cool weather combined with the leaves changing colors make autumn a great time of year to experience the Georgia outdoors. For many people, fall is the season to revisit or discover new parks, mountains and fall festivals. Whether you’re camping, hiking or finding your way through a corn maze, taking these simple safety precautions will help make your fall outdoor activities truly enjoyable.

Camping: Preparation is key

No organization knows camping better than the Boy Scouts, and their motto — “Be prepared” — is perfectly suited for this activity. Being properly prepared includes knowing what to expect, but also being prepared for the unexpected. In addition to having the essential items listed below, be sure to check the weather forecast prior to departure and tell a friend or family member where you’ll be and when you expect to return. Last, it is best to enjoy camping with a minimum of three people in the group; that way if one is injured and cannot move, one person can stay with the injured party while the other seeks help.

Essential items for camping include:

• First-aid kit, which should include antiseptic ointment or cream for cuts and scrapes, tweezers, insect repellent and pain relievers;
• Map of the area and a compass or GPS device;
• Flashlight;
• Knife;
• Waterproof fire starter;
• Shelter material;
• Whistle; and
• Proper clothing for weather.

Hiking: It’s a marathon, not a sprint

Safety measures used for camping should apply to hiking as well. Depending on the terrain, elevation and distance, your health could be impacted by the trail you choose. If you have medical conditions, discuss the trip with your doctor and get approval before departing. Be sure to wear appropriate clothing, bring plenty of water and pack energy bars, granola or fruit. If you use water from a natural source, remember to disinfect it.

If you’re traveling with children, a good rule of thumb is to allow the slowest person to set the pace. Keep in mind that this is not a race, and a steady pace with frequent rest stops will get you there with less discomfort.

Whether you’re camping or hiking, you’ll encounter plenty of insects and plants, such as poison ivy, that may be unfamiliar to you. For instance, poison ivy is one of the best-known plants, yet many people don’t realize it changes from green in the summer to various shades of yellow, orange and red during the fall.

Fall festivals: Stay together and alert

Here in Georgia, no autumn is complete without a visit to a corn maze, pumpkin patch or apple festival. The key to making these outings fun for the whole family is sticking together and staying alert.

Corn mazes are designed for fun and confusion, so becoming lost in the maze is a common concern. Be sure the maze has employees who are skilled at maneuvering their way through or are stationed on elevated platforms. Or better yet, see if they provide maps. Also, stay together as a group.

During hayrides, make sure everyone in your group is sitting at all times with arms and legs inside the wagon. Hold on to small children and railings, as bumps in the path could easily bounce riders off their seats. While you should be alert during the hayride, it’s equally important to be cautious when loading and unloading from the wagon. The combination of weather, hay and straw could create slippery conditions.

Kishel is senior clinical officer for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia and a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

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