Regional Park Districts Closing Facilities For Summer 2020

May 15, 2020

The spread of COVID-19 has forced park districts around the state to make some changes.

Many people consider Memorial Day the official beginning of summer, marking the start of youth ball leagues, summer camps, and the opening of community pools.

For park districts in the region the summer of 2020 is becoming one of uncertainty and revamping form the spread of COVID-19.

When Governor JB Pritzker issued his stay at home order in March, that closed all park facilities, but left the greenspaces open.

Some communities made the decision to cancel leagues and not open their public pools, while others are still hoping the order will be lifted and things will start to go back to normal.

Harrisburg Park District Executive Director Blake Emery says the park board met before May to discuss how to move forward with the extension of the stay at home order at the end of April.

“It was decided unanimously to keep the closures that we have current through the rest of the month of May and then meet again at the end of May to see what kind of guidance that the state is providing at that time.”

Harrisburg like many other communities have been patiently waiting for The Illinois Department of Public Health to issue guidelines for opening facilities safely depending on the social distancing guidelines that are in place.

“It sounded like that to me from what I’ve been hearing, they would give some type of guidance, whether or not they’re just going to flat tell us yes or no or they’re going to leave it up to us, I’m just not aware of that at this time, we’re just kind of sitting in limbo waiting.”

Carbondale Park District Executive Director Kathy Renfro says the district also has hope they will be able to reopen their facilities.

“Our concern is more around that six-foot distancing measure and the locker rooms but staff is working diligently to develop what those protocols would look like and not just in the pools but all of our facilities.”

Renfro says they would make modifications to meet the recommendations set by the state.

“We would reduce the number of bathers if you will, swimmers so that we could provide more space if you will, but I believe it would take additional staff, maybe even none certified staff that could help remind the customers or the swimmers what social distancing looks like.”

Mt. Vernon Assistant City Manager Nathan McKenna says the Aquatic Zoo is self-sustaining and would need more than the 80 employees they usually hire every summer.

That lead to the decision to not open the Aquatic Zoo in 2020.

“With more staff and with more staff and reduced revenue coming in because we’re limiting the number of people to allow in just wouldn’t have been cost effective”

The Jefferson County Sports Authority also has bad news for the youth summer leagues.

“They’ve already announced that they’re baseball leagues would not be playing this summer.”

Emery says Harrisburg postponed all athletics until the end of May, but hopes they can try to start the season in June.

“We’re kind of taking a wait and see approach and it’s not looking good, but we would like to get these kids something to do if it’s safe and that being the key thing, only if we can meet the recommended guidelines to ensure it’s a safe situation for the kids.”

For Carbondale Renfro says they’re trying to reconfigure their day camps to accommodate social distancing guidelines.

“We are beginning to get creative in our approach to what it looks like in the summer of 2020, what does day camp look like with 8 participants and 2 camp counselors, it’s a really interesting time in that we’re trying to make these projections but we don’t know what the rules of engagement are, so yeah we would hope to run some smaller camps, get the daycares back open.”

The Carbondale Park District operates Hickory Ridge Golf Course and was allowed to reopen in May with a few changes.

“We can set up the golf course to play a little bit differently, so people shouldn’t have to touch any objects like the flags sticks or put their hands down in a cup.”

All the facilities are still closed and golf carts and pull carts are not available.

Games are limited to two people or less and have your own equipment.

“The nature of golf allows it to be a more, maybe a sport you can just play with your family and you have your own equipment and those kinds of things are very different in golf, it’s wide open.”

McKenna says the city has some options for people to get outside.

“Really we don’t have anything other than just open green space and stuff like that, tennis courts are available to use; we just discourage large groups using them.”

The city is going to finish up some improvements on the Aquatic Zoo in hopes of opening in 2021.

“We added quite a bit or extra deck space and more lounge chairs and space for more lounge chairs at least that way to give the visitors more space spread out.”

Emery says until the state issues new guidelines, Harrisburg parks will remain the way they are.

“Ultimately the health, safety and well-being of everyone in our community is our top priority and we will make whatever decision is best for that.”