The coronavirus pandemic has taken something else away: summer as we know it in Minneapolis.
To maintain social distancing, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board this week announced the cancellation of most recreational activities through Aug. 31.
Outdoor pools, beaches and water parks will be closed. Large events organized by the Park Board, such as the Fourth of July fireworks along the riverfront and 5K races, will not happen. Spring and summer sports leagues, including softball and kickball, are canceled.
The decision will be a major disruption to families across Minneapolis, put the jobs of hundreds of seasonal employees in limbo and result in millions of dollars in lost revenue for the Park Board. Although disappointed, board members Friday said they’re acting on behalf of the health of park users and staff.
“It’s hard to make a decision that would undercut people’s ability to be outside,” Park Board President Jono Cowgill said. “What I am looking at ... is all the cities across the country that have already shut down parks completely. I am really cognizant that that is not something that I want to have happen in Minneapolis.”
Word of the cancellations spread fast among the Park Board’s seasonal employees.
Lillian Beyer, who lives in southeastern Minnesota, has worked as a lifeguard for the Park Board since 2018. She was already planning to return to work for them this summer.
As a lifeguard, Beyer made about $14.50 an hour, working sometimes up to 48 hours a week during the summer.
“I understand it’s the safest thing to do, but obviously it’s a huge loss of income and plans,” she said.
The Minnesota Ice Swim Club, a local LGBTQ swim team, was hoping to return for its second consecutive season this summer, co-founder Luke Paquin said. With over 40 members, they practice at the Phillips Aquatics Center and were going to expand to Jim Lupient Water Park for outdoor practices.
Now, their season has been postponed, he said. He believes the Park Board’s action was premature.
“Some of these things might seem trivial, but they’re still important for a lot of people,” Paquin said. “Their decision to close affects a wide audience here in Minneapolis.”
The cancellation of sports leagues would be a blow not only to children, but also to adults who participate in team sports, said Commissioner Kale Severson, who is also the athletic director for North High School.
“Obviously I’m really disappointed that this move is going to be made, but it’s necessary,” he said.
Families were bracing for a summer bereft of the usual outdoor activities.
Andy Rowell and his family primarily visit Lynnhurst Park in southwest Minneapolis. His 9-year-old daughter cried when she learned the swimming pools would be closed.
To kids, it’s “almost like there won’t be Christmas or something, you know that there won’t be swimming this summer,” he said. His coaching gigs were also canceled.
“It’s just one other heartbreaking thing,” Rowell said. “We’re not mad at [the Park Board] or anything else like that.”
If the state’s recommendations change, so could the Park Board’s plans for the summer, Cowgill said.
“I don’t want families signing up their kids for spring sports only to be let down in three to four weeks,” Commissioner Brad Bourn said. “If the landscape starts to change, I think these are all decisions the Park Board would be happy to reverse.”
University of Minnesota student J.D. Duggan contributed to this report.