DULUTH – City parks could look a bit different this summer due to new guidelines to prevent disease transmission and drastic cuts to maintenance staff.
Duluth is asking residents not to use its facilities for organized athletics, contact sports, youth programs or gatherings of more than 10 people until July 1, when city staff will reevaluate its pandemic policies.
Though city buildings, playgrounds and bathrooms remain closed, Duluth’s parks, trails, beaches and water access are open.
“This year, those summer parks experiences are more important to the community’s well-being than ever before,” said Jim Filby Williams, the city’s director of parks, properties and libraries.
Duluth laid off two-thirds of its parks maintenance staff as city leaders began to reckon with a shortfall of up to $38 million. Right now the department is budgeting for 14,800 labor hours between May and October instead of the 45,000 hours that would usually be spent on upkeep.
That means trash won’t get picked up at every site and mowing will be less frequent (or, in some places, abandoned altogether). There will be no new plantings, and repairs will be limited to those that are absolutely necessary.
“We literally will not be able to provide the same level of service that you have come to rely on,” Duluth Mayor Emily Larson said at a virtual news conference Wednesday.
The city will install portable toilets at its park sites that will be cleaned by a vendor daily. It has also blocked off multiple roads to give residents more opportunities to recreate in socially distant ways.
Filby Williams said the city will proactively not enforce its rules. Nor will it block basketball rims or remove nets like a number of other cities, including Minneapolis, have done in an attempt to curb the spread of COVID-19.
If residents fail to comply, the mayor added that Duluth officials could revisit their decision. Already, the city has closed one of its two public golf courses for the year and temporarily shuttered the Lake Superior Zoo, Wade Stadium and the Park Point Beach House for budgetary and public health reasons.
“I know there are many cities that have canceled summer entirely,” Larson said. “We are unwilling to do that yet.”