DULUTH — In a week when park spaces are reopening and community sports are resuming after Minnesota's COVID-19 shut down, Duluth residents will be getting some mixed access to those fun places.
City playgrounds will open Thursday for families to use at their own risk, officials said Wednesday, but city athletic fields will not open as quickly as in other parts of the state.
Coronavirus restrictions in Minnesota loosened Wednesday to allow no-contact practices for sports such as soccer, baseball, softball, basketball and football, said Jim Filby Williams, the city's director of parks, properties and facilities. But in Duluth, city-maintained facilities for those sports won't be available because the city simply can't afford to keep them up.
"Unfortunately, the city's reduced park maintenance workforce is not able at this time to provide the field mowing, scheduling, watering, dragging and lining services that are necessary for such activities to resume here in Duluth," Filby Williams said in a regularly scheduled city news conference. The fields that will remain closed include flagship facilities such as the Wheeler Athletic Complex, Arlington Athletic Complex and the Lake Park Fields Athletic Complex, including the Jean Duluth Soccer Complex.
On July 1, city officials will resume allowing vehicles on some streets that were closed for bicyclists and pedestrians to allow for easier social distancing during the pandemic shutdown.
In general, residents will notice a difference in park maintenance practices with many park employees on furlough, Filby Williams said. That includes taller grass, fewer garbage and recycling sites, closed community centers and many closed restrooms.
In the meantime, leaders are asking all park users to be "on their best behavior," he said. That means taking trash with them when they leave, having a plan for going to the bathroom and not going in the bushes, refraining from setting campfires and dragging furniture into park facilities and leaving it there, and observing 10 p.m. park closing time.
Mayor Emily Larson said she hopes the city can reopen some facilities soon.
"I understand your disappointment. I actually feel it too. I am a parks user. I am a parent of kids who are active," Larson said. "None of these decisions are easy. We don't make them lightly. We hope to make different ones, actually."