Local parks take steps to limit spread of virus on fields and trails

Parks are open but playgrounds are off limits.

DOVER — The outdoors seem like a great place to be right now.

Social distancing isn’t as difficult to pull off with all those open spaces and fresh air.

And while the people who run local parks do want you to get out and take advantage of the warmer weather, they are taking steps to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

So walking trails are good — as long as you keep your distance from other walkers — but things like playground equipment are off limits.

Jeremy Sheppard, the director of Kent County’s Parks & Recreation department, did have someone drag a lacrosse goal over a fence at Kent County’s Kesserling Field recently. He knows a four-foot high isn’t going to keep everyone off the fields.

“I think besides that (lacrosse goal being moved) and maybe a couple of other minor incidents, I think it’s largely been very positive,” said Sheppard. “We’ve monitored social media a little bit and we understand that some people are upset that the parks are still open. There’s pluses and minuses on both sides of that coin.

“I mean we have regional-level parks — 80 acres, 85 and almost 60 — so it does give people the opportunity to get outside, get some fresh air, get a little bit of exercise or just have a little piece of mind during these times. We have to trust that people are going to follow the social-distancing guidelines. We don’t have any enforcement capabilities — going around giving people tickets or anything like that.”

There have also been issues with people continuing to play pickup basketball games in groups at a few outdoor courts around the state. So some parks have had their baskets taken down to help prevent close physical activities that involve groups of people — like basketball.

Nets on tennis courts have also been taken down in some places. In Newark, its two skateboarding parks have been closed.

Newark officials are also asking hikers to “refrain from using parks or trails if you are exhibiting symptoms” and to give other people ample space when passing them on a trail.

The indoor exercise facilities at Kent County and the City of Dover as well as the Dover YMCA have been closed for the time being.

Almost all high schools keep their playing fields locked up on a regular basis with signs posted that they’re not for public use.

People around the state have reported that some parks look busier during the pandemic. Sheppard said he has noticed more people out at places like Camden’s Brecknock Park and Dover’s Hunn Nature Park. 

“I’ve gone to a couple parks during nice days and the parking lots do look busy,” said Sheppard. “It does seem like there’s a lot of cars. But when I really survey the landscape, I don’t see groups of people.

“We’ve put up good signage at the playground and the fitness stations and people seem to be respecting that — that I can tell.”