EagleHerald staff writer
MARINETTE—Maybe some of us forgot while wilting away in the pandemic doldrums of social loneliness for the last year. But the after-scent of a fresh spring rain wafting in through an open window as shafts of sunlight dry the air might jog the memory: out there, just over yonder, the City of Marinette offers ample recreation and fun.
And the Marinette Department of Parks and Recreation stands ready for a planned and cautious COVID bounce back and strong summer activity level at parks throughout the city and in the participation at REC Center programming (see the article “REC strong summer programming”). After the long period of stillness, when the likely hood of witnessing a solitary tumbleweed trundle through a deserted city park outweighed the probability of seeing a gaggle of picnic-goers milling about the pavilions or climbing over playground equipment, Executive Director of Recreation & Events Gavin Scray expressed a cautious expectancy of the coming summer.
“We are excited to somewhat get back to normal,” Scray told the EagleHerald. “Obviously we are still taking some precautions but we want to be here for the public and we are looking forward to the summer.”
While summer’s first official day still awaits (June 20) and Memorial Day does not arrive for another month (May 31), tomorrow, nevertheless, marks a significant transition in the COVID recovery for Marinette. And thanks to COVID vaccination, reduced incidence of infections and guidance from various organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the summer parks season in Marinette looks strong.
Saturday kicks off the unofficial opening of parks for summer and a return to some semblance of relative normalcy, which stands in stark contrast to this time last, when new closures, cancelations and restrictions were coming daily. According to information from the Parks and Recreation Department, this summer promises a breath of fresh air as people begin to emerge from their COVID coops.
“Obviously, we still hope people treat (park areas) with respect and take whatever precautions they might feel necessary,” Scray said. “But from our perspective, (the city’s parks) will be open to the fullest extent as they would normally be open.”
“The fullest extent” means the locks come open on bathroom doors, campground showers open for use, pavilion rentals for graduations and other family, friend and community gatherings are once again available and various other amenities at parks across the city shift into the normal summertime operation.
It’s important to note, however, throughout the pandemic the city parks did remain open for people to stretch their legs and partake in gatherings under their own precautions and city restrictions. However, COVID-19 imposed several additional park restrictions on certain amenities and activities such as shutting down areas where points of contact posed a higher risk, which meant canceling all pavilion rentals, shutting off water fountains, showers and locking up restrooms. And while those actions helped curb the spread of COVID, they also put the kibosh on graduation celebrations and other anticipated summertime activities.
According to Scray, during a normal summer, the most frequent types of reservations the parks department honors come from pavilion rentals for graduation parties at the various parks throughout Marinette’s, including City Park, Red Arrow and Stephenson Island.
“On a normal year, starting on Memorial Day and continuing throughout the summer, our popular pavilions and popular parks are almost consistently booked out every weekend,” he said.
This summer the department started taking reservations in the fall, informing people at that time, pending the COVID situation and its associated restrictions, those reservations may need to be canceled. However, as the rest of the state and the country move into a COVID recovery, a diminishing risk of cancelations seems promising.
At the state level, The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) notified the public in a Wednesday press release that several operation updates (related to COVID-19 and regular spring operations) at state parks and other DNR-managed lands also begin lifting or easing COVID restriction as of today. For example, with respect to pandemic restrictions, capacity for open-air shelters, amphitheaters and outdoor group campgrounds at state parks will be increased to 100 people and stand-alone concession facilities will open to the public at 50% capacity. Additionally, facilities like bathrooms will also reopen.
“Visitors are encouraged to practice social distancing and to wear a face-covering when a distance of 6 feet or greater cannot be achieved,” the DNR’s release stated, which adheres to CDC and Wisconsin Department of Health Services advice.
In Marinette, according to Scray and Recreation Superintendent Adrienne Lacy, the city parks department, like the DNR, proceeded throughout the pandemic according to advice and recommendations from the DHS, tahe CDC and other organizations that view parks and recreation as a critical service for communities.
More specifically, the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) calls parks and recreation professionals and services essential municipal amenities. They provide communities with places for people to maintain physical and mental health. They offer places for children to exercise and socialize.
And during the pandemic, Marinette parks department staff took the necessary measures to keep the city’s open recreational areas and running while also working to mitigate any opportunity for the virus to spread.
“We felt it was important to keep the parks open (during the pandemic) but obviously limit certain aspects … that might allude to any transmission of COVID,” Scray said.
Starting Saturday, many of those limitations and restrictions will be lifted. And Scray reiterated that even as the parks department emerges from COVID lockdowns and restrictions, it remains important for each resident to remain vigilant for him- or herself and also reverent towards others’ concerns.
“So far people have been respectful of what (the department) is trying to accomplish,” he said. “And they are cognizant of the dangers that are still out there and they are treating it accordingly.”