While speed is often coveted in athletics and (let’s be honest) in society, as whole, these days, Tom Gilliam is going with the fabled slow-and-steady approach to reopening the City of Cartersville’s parks and recreation areas.
Gilliam hadn’t held his post of Cartersville Parks and Recreation director for even a full year before being forced to shut down programs and close gates in March as a response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Earlier this week, certain areas of the parks around town began reopening, including playgrounds and batting cages. However, it’s just the first step in a multilayered process that calls for most of the parks and rec facilities to reopen over the coming months.
“Diamond-shaped fields at Dellinger, the sports complex and Hicks, as well as the restrooms, are going to remain closed for the time being,” Gilliam said Wednesday. “The tennis courts, we’re looking to open those on Monday, June 1. They’ll be open for just free play only, for the time being. The outdoor basketball courts will remain locked, with a potential opening following July 4. The civic center, we’re looking to start renting that facility back out starting in July. Based upon the state mandates, we’re looking at July 1 [for] opening the senior aquatic center back up. … We won’t be opening up the outdoor pools for the summer season.”
The biggest issue keeping the aforementioned fields and courts from being able to join the list of currently usable facilities is the social distancing guidelines, which remain in place. Those include staying six feet apart and limiting groups to no more than 10 people.
“The gathering number really hits us,” Gilliam said. “Right now, it’s still 10 at least until the middle of June, based on what the governor said [Tuesday]. If you can’t gather more than 10, it doesn’t allow us to do a whole lot, other than letting people into the parks. …
“We can only do what the state mandates us to do.”
As such, park attendants and maintenance staff have both seen an uptick in their responsibilities.
“We do have our park attendants who are going around different outdoor parks, making sure everybody is practicing social distancing and staying under that gathering number,” Gilliam said. “… Every day, [the maintenance staff is] going through and wiping the poles down and everything that needs taken care of on a daily basis.”
Even prior to Monday’s partial reopening, individuals and small groups were able to make use of the city’s trails. Between those who utilized (and continue to utilize) the trails and those who have made their way out to the reopened areas already this week, Gilliam called the number of people taking advantage of the parks “tremendous.”
“There’s been people out and about, doing a lot of stuff the last couple of months,” he said. “Now that we’ve opened up, especially Dellinger Park, we’ve seen a good amount of traffic in there. … There’s people out there using the trails, running and even some who are out on the rectangular fields, whether it be throwing a ball or Frisbee or kicking a soccer ball around.”
Despite the overall positive outlook surrounding the modest reopening, Gilliam cautions that things could change quickly in the future.
“Basically, none of these are written in stone, because we really don’t know what’s going to happen months down the road or anything like that,” he said. “We just wanted to pretty much go slow and incrementally, as opposed to just ‘Hey, we’re back wide open, and we’re offering all these different programs.’”
Gilliam understands that some people won’t be satisfied with the reopening process, but he said the majority of the feedback he’s received throughout this ordeal has been positive. In fact, Gilliam said his incremental approach to reopening has been copied by some other agencies around the state.
“We’re in uncharted waters,” he said. “We’ve got a great city department, with upper management, as well as our elected officials. They’ve been a big help in helping guiding us. We’ve also been relying upon our state association [Georgia Recreation and Park Association]. ... Early on, when all this went on, they created a Google Doc for us. I want to say there were like 170-plus agencies on there, so you could see not only the agencies around the City of Cartersville but also all throughout the state and what they were doing.
“I’ve actually had talks with a few agencies around the state who have called and asked, ‘Hey, I’ve heard about your timeline, can you explain that further to me?’ We’ve had some other agencies actually use our timeline with what we came up with, because they liked that. It gave them kind of a slow plan of attack on how to handle things.”