In the midst of the COVID-19 virus, our lives have been upended. From school closings and social distancing, to the more serious case of loved ones getting sick, many of the things we take for granted have become strikingly obvious.
Faced with closures of public events and in light of the pandemic, PenMet Parks was forced to reevaluate its events, including the beloved annual Spring Egg Hunt. As things play out, the board will consider whether to postpone the event or ultimately cancel it.
“To begin with, safety is really the name of the game, even before word of the COVID-19 virus started to spread, safety is a number one priority,” says PenMet Parks Executive Director Doug Nelson. “Making sure that our parks are maintained and cleansed at a level that makes our customers and staff feel safe is important. That hasn’t changed. It’s even more important now that we pay close attention to those details.”
Once it’s determined that it is safe to get back out and participate in group activities, Nelson is hopeful they will be able to reschedule many of the spring events they were forced to postpone, including the egg hunt. In the meantime, they are thankful people have been so understanding. “I'm really impressed with the staff, the community, our board and how we’re adjusting in changing things. Information is just flying so quickly, so people have been very respectful and adapting well,” he says.
The PenMet Parks team has also been considering ways they can help and provide safe activities for families in the midst of the crisis—like a possible take-home egg hunt package that families can hide in their own backyard. These are just ideas, and nothing is set in stone, particularly as things change on a daily basis while the epidemic is being monitored. “At the end of the day we want to provide some type of recreational fun, and if we can’t hold it on its regularly scheduled date, we are considering all of the alternative options to still do something fun that the community can benefit from,” says Nelson.
The open-air parks are a popular place for kids and families to get some exercise and fresh air in light of school closures, while still maintaining social distancing. PenMet has increased maintenance and cleaning of these areas to help contain the spread of germs and is committed to providing what outlet they can for the local community, while heading what public health officials are advising and making sure that they’re taking all of the necessary steps to contain the virus as much as possible. (As of press time, playgrounds were to remain closed through March 31, though the date may be extended. They encourage the community to visit PenMetParks.org/new/special-announcements for updates.)
“We’ve been firm about making sure that we are as a public agency forwarding that message on and making sure it’s readily available for our customers to see,” says Nelson. “Our staff is doing their due diligence.”
But it still rests on the individual to make sure they are doing their own due diligence when visiting the parks. “Social distancing probably means something different to everybody, but recognizing that there are ways to go visit a park, and being respectful [is important],” continues Nelson. “I think people understand under the circumstances, we’re happy to see that people are exercising those types of precautions when they’re visiting the parks.”
PenMet Parks is all about providing opportunities for recreation, and they still maintain their commitment to personal health and happiness in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. In fact, keeping parks available to the public and providing safe and mood-boosting alternatives is a key ingredient they want to contribute to keeping people healthy.
“One of the things that I appreciate about being in this profession ... we provide opportunities to recreate and to be healthy, and along with that comes good health and good happiness,” says Nelson. “During tough times, being able to do something that lifts your spirits and lifts your mood, and maybe even improves your health, would certainly go a long way in keeping our communities and our individuals healthier.”
We could all use a little happiness and positivity—especially in the midst of all the heavy news and difficult times. So even if PenMet’s events are closed, find your own way to recreate the fun and joy, and consider safe ways to get outside and enjoy the fresh air.
“If you're happy and healthy, it feels like you can take things that life throws at you a little bit better sometimes,” says Nelson.