The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board announced Friday that it will close courts, athletic fields, playgrounds and skate parks by May 1 in an effort to limit groups from congregating in parks during the coronavirus pandemic.
The restrictions will include removing or blocking basketball rims, removing tennis and volleyball nets, and posting signs notifying park visitors that soccer fields, playgrounds and skate parks are closed.
Park Board President Jono Cowgill said the decisions were made following guidance from city health officials and after seeing groups continuing to gather in close proximity. The city has received more than 125 complaints of large groups at parks, many playing sports such as soccer and basketball.
“This is an issue that we’re consistently seeing. The fact is that some park spaces have been built to provide for congregating,” Cowgill said. “We need to take steps now to ensure that people are staying safe as best they can.”
Park Board Superintendent Al Bangoura said in a statement that the closures were needed to deter groups that have continued to defy social distancing measures.
“We’re taking this necessary step to slow the spread of COVID-19 and for the health and safety of residents and their families,” he said. “We have put a lot of effort into educating and encouraging social distancing, but we continue to see park visitors gathering during this national health crisis.”
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said he supports the additional restrictions. “We’d rather ruin summer and save lives than save summer and ruin lives,” he said.
“The entire question is around physical distancing: what activities require that you come into close contact with others,” Frey added. “This is about saving lives right now.”
The Park Board has opened nearly 22 miles of parkways to pedestrians since March. Golf courses were also reopened following an executive order from Gov. Tim Walz, with players free to walk the courses.
Akisha Everett, a board member of the Hawthorne Neighborhood Council in north Minneapolis, said she was heartbroken to hear the courts and fields would be closed. She usually takes her sons, one who plays varsity basketball at DeLaSalle High School, to Farview Park to shoot hoops when there is nobody else on the courts.
“The parks are like a second home to them, for real,” she said. “It just feels awful, just like a lot of things that are going on now.”
Everett worried closing outdoor facilities would remove a positive outlet for young people, especially “our black and brown boys.” She had mixed feelings, however, having seen large groups of adults playing football at the park as well as at places including the Stone Arch Bridge.
“There’s nobody to blame,” Everett said. “It just feels bad.”
In response to the question of whether the closures would unfairly affect people of color, Frey said that “preventing the spread of this virus is a racial justice issue. Period.”
Cowgill added: “If there is a larger portion of people of color using basketball courts or any other kinds of athletic facilities, it’s all the more concern for that demographic’s health to have them hanging out and … exposing others to the virus.”
In addition to posting signs stating that the facilities are closed, the Park Board could lock facilities that are fenced in and tape off playgrounds, Cowgill said. Chains at disc golf courses will be removed, he said, and signs will be posted on picnic areas limiting access to 10 people or fewer.
The closures will be in effect for the foreseeable future, Cowgill said. Park Board employees and police will be monitoring the spaces daily.
“My understanding is that we are providing education,” he said. “We don’t have the capacity nor the interest in citing people.”