The Bartow County Parks and Recreation department has been given the difficult task of figuring out how to function best during a global pandemic.
Some facilities have to be closed, while others remain open. Social distancing is being monitored by employees, while some restrictions have been put in place to mitigate the issue. A few cornerstone programs have had to be canceled, while others have been postponed with the hopes of being revived later in the summer.
Overall, it’s a situation unlike any director Greg Hight has ever encountered. He’s hoping the summer months will allow for a return — albeit one that’s likely slow and incremental — to normal.
“It’s been an adjustment for everybody, including us,” Hight said. “But I think everybody has been doing their part in trying to abide by what the governor and the CDC has put in place.”
The rec department released a COVID-19 update April 24 on its webpage, outlining what facilities will remain closed through the end of May and offering updates on several activities and programs. Hight said he’s scheduled to meet with county commissioner Steve Taylor and county administrator Peter Olson to discuss plans to eventually have the parks completely opened back up.
“We’re going to try to make a timeline on what we can open, when we can open and if we have to open in phases,” Hight said of the meeting.
As of right now, the following facilities remain closed, per the April 24 update: all indoor facilities at Hamilton Crossing and Manning Mill, Hamilton Crossing football field, Cherokee Retreat Center, Rex Moncus Park, Frank Moore Complex, playgrounds and restrooms at all parks, outdoor basketball courts and picnic shelters (no rentals).
Other fields remain available for use, although group sizes are limited to six. Walking trails are likewise open but also require social distancing measures. Since water levels have receded following a period of substantial rainfall early in the year, boat ramps have been used quite frequently.
The rec department’s three campgrounds — Clark Creek North, Clark Creek South and Gatewood — have remained opened. Hight did say, though, that some of the campsites at Gatewood have been closed to allow for more space between groups.
“Gatewood has 70 sites and we went in and closed about 30 sites just to make sure we keep our campsites spaced out from each other,” he said. “The other two [camps] it’s not that big of an issue, because they have usually 20-30 feet between campsites. We tell everybody no more than 4-6 people in a group, and we’re not letting any visitors into the campground neither.
“Most people seem to be fine with that, and we haven’t seemed to have any issues there.”
However, there have been a few cancellations that Hight has had to order that disappointed him.
“I hated we had to cancel our spring baseball, softball and soccer programs,” he said. “We’ve talked to most of those people now and either issued refunds or credits to their account. We’re hoping maybe by the middle of May, if we see that we possibly can, we’re going to try to do some type of summer league for the ones who stayed in the program.
“We’ve got our fingers crossed that things will get better.”
Hight has maintained that positive outlook in regards to a couple more rec department staples — Camp Bartow and summer feeding programs.
According to Hight, Camp Bartow is typically an eight-week event, spanning a majority of June and July, with roughly 120 kids participating. The April 24 update said the camp will not begin next month. It did leave open the possibility of reassessing midway through June in hopes of putting together an abbreviated program in July.
As previously reported in The Daily Tribune News by Donna Harris, the rec department partnered with the Bartow County School System to help deliver gifts. Those went out alongside the meals the district has been passing out to students since the coronavirus forced the closure of school buildings. Hight hopes the rec department's summer feeding program can pick up the baton after the school system’s delivery plan likely ends later this month.
“We’re trying to figure out a way we might still get some meals out or to some place where people could pick them up,” he said. “We don’t want to lose that program, as well.”
While the spring has certainly not gone the way Hight would have anticipated at the beginning of the year, he believes his department has handled the adversity well. That being said, Hight definitely is hopeful that the summer offers a chance to make up for lost time.
“We hope to maybe do some things in the months of June and July for the people in our county, especially these young people,” Hight said. “Give them some type of program to get back out to the parks and get them back to life as normal.”