Managing Parks and Rec Summer Activities During COVID-19

April 20, 2020

The pandemic is creating uncertainties for summer programs and activities, and cities are coming up with creative solutions to handle this.

Cities are grappling with uncertainties as we near the summer season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Current projections show that virus will reach its peak in Minnesota around mid-July, if the current measures are followed to slow the spread.

Due to these uncertainties, cities are now facing the difficult decision as to whether they should close, cancel, or postpone summer programs, activities, and facilities such as swimming pools, festivals, and sports.

Cities would also have to consider other issues when planning for the summer like hiring seasonal employees and ensuring the safety of everyone. There have been different approaches taken by cities to handle this situation.

To close or not to close

Since the decision to open or close summer programs falls with the local jurisdictions, several cities have taken different approaches to handle this issue. Some cities have opted to close these activities for the summer based on the current projections, while allowing some flexibility to reopen should the projections change.

For example, according to its website, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board has:

  • Closed all program buildings, beaches, and pools for this summer.
  • Canceled all parks and recreation events, while evaluating whether some events can be held later.
  • Canceled all summer programs and team sports, as well as classes that do not allow social distance or virtual participation.

Due to the unpredictable nature of the virus, Minneapolis will keep the flexibility to reopen programs if things change, and staff will be evaluating some programs to determine whether they can be open this summer.

—Read the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board plan

Some cities are taking a wait-and-see approach, using the beginning of May as a deadline to make a decision. This coincides with the end of Gov. Walz’s current stay at home directive under Executive Order 20-33.

For example, the City of Roseville posted on its website that the city has closed its programs and facilities until at least May 3 pending further guidance. However, it wouldn’t be surprising if the deadline is pushed back to a later date, while the city continues to evaluate the situation.

—See Roseville’s decision

The City of Foley is also waiting until the beginning of May — or as long as possible — to decide on parks and recreation facilities and programs, said City Administrator Sarah Brunn. Their decision will depend on factors like the governor’s executive order, the number of COVID-19 cases in their county, which is low at the moment, and ensuring revenue will still be on par if they decide to open.

These approaches have one thing in common: the understanding that the situation is very dynamic in nature, and nothing is predictable at this point. Things could move in any direction, and it is important that cities keep monitoring the situation closely, analyzing and adjusting their programs as they see fit. The key here is to be as flexible as possible.

Hiring seasonal summer staff

Another difficult decision cities are struggling with is whether they should continue hiring. How do they meet the staffing needs if the situation quickly changes and they decide to open their facilities and programs? Cities have been coming up with creative solutions.

Some cities have decided against hiring seasonal employees for the summer, but will still hire critical workers for things like general maintenance where there is little risk of exposure or where workers can maintain social distancing. For example, in Minneapolis, most summer positions typically hired for programming and recreation services will not be hired. However, they will be hiring certified summer seasonal employees required for critical service work, including mobile equipment operators, parkkeepers, and gardeners.

Other cities like Plymouth, that started the hiring process prior to the coronavirus outbreak here, will be reviewing postings on an individual basis, and determining whether the posting should continue or be closed for the time being, said the city’s HR Technician Katy Cotterman. Plymouth will continue to monitor the situation and will make decisions as more information is available.

Foley, on the other hand, will not start hiring until they make a decision about programs and activities, said Brunn. In the meantime, they are trying to maximize their staffing options, including reaching out to prior staff to get an idea of potential returnees, and working with a local school with similar swimming programs to have their staff help.

There are other options cities can explore to help with a quick turnaround, like redeploying other full-time staff to do some of the temporary/seasonal work if possible. Another option could be to hire through temp staffing agencies if feasible.

Safety considerations

If your city decides to keep its parks and rec programs and facilities open, you’ll want to ensure the safety of employees and residents. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Outdoor Recreation Guidelines apply during the stay at home order.

—Read the DNR guidelines

One of the most important things to consider when thinking of the safety side of things is employee training. After the initial training, it’s important to follow up to make sure everything is understood, and the training is used every time they come to work. The League offers a great training video library to use as a resource.

As the precautions of the pandemic (social distancing, staying at home, etc.) may very well go into the summer, it is important to plan ahead. The CDC offers COVID-19 safety guidance for administrators of parks and recreation facilities.

—Read the CDC guidance