With playgrounds and other outdoor amenities shut down, families living on St. Paul's Laurel Avenue have kept themselves entertained this summer using swings hanging in lush boulevard trees.
Their old-fashioned fun might be coming to an end, however.
City officials said the swings must be removed by June 1 because they violate an ordinance protecting city-owned trees.
Faced with notices from the city, the kids in the Summit-University neighborhood quickly pivoted from sadness to social media influence. They made posters and took their photos on swings in the neighborhood to spread awareness and gather support for their cause, hoping the city will let the swings stay.
"It's kind of silly," said 10-year-old Lucy Arthur. "I don't really get why they're caring about this right now."
Her family was surprised when the city's Forestry Department early last week sent them a notice to remove the swings. Three other families along the 900 block of Laurel Avenue were subject to the same order, and initially residents were given three days to remove the swings.
Lucy, a fourth-grader at St. Paul Academy, said it's already upsetting that playgrounds are closed and potentially camp later this summer.
"The swing is really fun," she said Sunday. "If they were coming to take it down, we're just going to sit in it."
But the family has come up with a solution, if needed, to treat the swing like a hammock by hanging it temporarily. "That would probably work," Lucy said, adding that it's "not really a protest."
Mom Amelia Arthur said Lucy and her brother, 7-year-old Winston, both cried after the notice was suddenly left on their doorstep.
"We want our kids to be able to play in proximity to our house and have that childhood fun," she said. "It's ludicrous in the midst of this crisis that anyone was giving notice to take a swing down."
When they moved to Laurel Avenue last summer, they saw other swings on the boulevard, some that have been hanging for more than a decade. Without a large tree in their backyard to support a swing, they put one up on the boulevard. "It never occurred to us it was an issue," she said.
The ordinance clearly states that items are not to be attached to any city trees: "It is unlawful for any person to attach any object to any tree growing, standing or located upon any public place," the ordinance states. "No person shall tie, drape or attach signs, lights or any other thing whatsoever to any tree ... without first obtaining permission of the forestry manager."
Amelia Arthur said she and other neighbors are communicating with the city, hoping officials will consider an exception to the order, at least while other amenities remain closed.
"It seems like everyone in the world is trying to make this new normal workable, so it's like, why would they not?" she said. "I think we all tried to appeal not just to the heart strings, but to reason and common sense. In this pandemic, so many rules and regulations have been put on hold or bent or amended to meet the needs of what people are able to do at this time."
Mike Hahm, director of St. Paul Parks and Recreation, said in a letter dated Friday to the Arthurs that the city will enforce the ordinance to protect the health of trees and ensure public safety within the public right of way related to adjacent sidewalks and streets.
Mike Merissa said his three children, ages 9, 12 and 14, are "more amused and befuddled than upset" about the situation.
"In the scheme of things, it's not a huge problem, but it just seems a tad heavy-handed," he said. "In light of school closings, park closings, camps and other activities closing, it seemed to me giving a little would go a long way."
Merissa has lived on Laurel Avenue with his family for 16 years and said the swings are nothing new. City workers doing regular maintenance have seen the swings and never taken issue before.
"They have discretion and they can exercise that. Refusing to at this moment comes off as clueless," Merissa said. "It is technically the law, but we're talking about its application."
He likens it to coming down on kids selling lemonade because they don't have a license. "An overreach," he said, adding that he understands people are just doing their jobs.
"It's just little kids trying to make the best out of a bad situation," he said.