The department has seen around a 200% increase in park usage during the pandemic, with a lot of people using the trails, tennis courts and driving range.

The department has seen around a 200% increase in park usage during the pandemic, with a lot of people using the trails, tennis courts and driving range.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


Southfield parks see 200% increase in use during pandemic

By: Mary Beth Almond, Zachary Manning | Southfield Sun | Published September 8, 2020

 Kids hit the playscape at Inglenook Park Sept. 4. The Southfield Parks and Recreation Department has implemented strict guidelines for parkgoers to follow in order to remain safe.

Kids hit the playscape at Inglenook Park Sept. 4. The Southfield Parks and Recreation Department has implemented strict guidelines for parkgoers to follow in order to remain safe.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Advertisement

SOUTHFIELD — The COVID-19 pandemic may still be around, but that hasn’t stopped Southfield residents from hitting the parks for some fresh air.

Southfield Parks and Recreation Director Terry Fields said the parks have seen about a 200% increase during the pandemic.

The Parks and Recreation Department is responsible for just under 800 acres of parkland at 33 sites around the city. The department is also in charge of multiple historical properties.

In an effort to escape boredom at home or just needing some sun, people have flocked to the local parks to walk through nature trails, hit the driving range and play tennis, among other activities.

With social distancing playing a big role, things such as volleyball and basketball courts aren’t open at this time.

“I’m just grateful people are getting out and discovering what we have,” Parks Supervisor John Thompson said. “Hopefully, they continue to do that with the knowledge that they’ve gained.”

With the increased foot traffic, the department has seen the amount of trash and litter in the parks rise too. To help with that, they have added extra garbage cans and have increased staff in the parks.

In terms of the pandemic, the department has increased its cleaning protocols in bathrooms and other places, while placing signs in the parks to help everyone understand what specific guidelines are in place.

“Our focus is safety for our residents,” Fields said. “Our community was hit very hard, so we definitely have protocols for our outdoor areas.”

While the pandemic continues, the Southfield Parks and Recreation Department has found ways to continue classes and programs for residents.

The department recently announced its fall schedule, which will take typical indoor classes such as yoga and dance and move them into the parks.

There are a variety of other activities planned, along with virtual opportunities for those who are at high risk or aren’t quite ready to participate in person. Class sizes will be smaller, and participants will have to wear masks and adhere to social distancing guidelines.

“We’re really taking a look at some of the scenarios that folks are faced with right now and trying to provide some relief there and some opportunities to get some healthy exercise and get some recreation,” Fields said.

The department’s staff has heard from residents throughout the pandemic and said the responses have generally been positive. Marketing analyst Stephanie Kaiser said the feedback on social media has also been good.

They are also grateful for residents who have provided critical feedback, because it allows them to react in a timely manner.

The department staff said they understand that everyone has different comfort levels when it comes to the pandemic, but they hope to see people continue to enjoy what the parks have to offer.

“We absolutely encourage folks to come on out in the parks and to exercise and be healthy and be safe while doing so,” Fields said.

 

Huron Clinton Metroparks
The Huron Clinton Metroparks have been able to keep all 13 of their parks open throughout the pandemic, although Chief of Marketing and Communications Danielle Mauter said operations have widely changed.

“We are being very diligent at keeping track of the executive orders and the recommendations that are coming out at the state and federal levels to make sure our operations are adhering to all of that. … We are trying to remain flexible so we can keep the parks open and available for people to get out of their house and experience the outdoors, while still keeping people safe,” she said.

The metropark system has seen a large uptick in attendance this year.

“Our vehicle counts are up right around 30.8% right now, year to date, so we are seeing more people out in the parks on a regular basis,” Mauter said.

In terms of monthly numbers, Lake St. Clair Metropark saw 84,084 vehicles in July; Stony Creek Metropark saw 118,964; Indian Springs Metropark saw 14,695; Kensington Metropark saw 132,787; and Lake Erie Metropark saw 28,969, to name a few.

Daily park pass sales are also skyrocketing, by 16.7% year to date.

“What we are seeing is that our annual pass users are using their annual passes more times; they’re visiting more often,” Mauter explained.

More crowds means operating some facilities a little differently than in the past.

“Some of our pools are not open, and we have kept some indoor facilities closed. At the pools that are open ... our capacity is lower, so each timed session is capacity limited to approximately 80 swimmers, and in between each session, we are conducting a cleaning in the pools themselves. We’ve also removed the pool furniture from the decks,” Mauter explained. “We’re taking some added precautions and operating a little differently than we typically would.”

So far, park visitors have been “pretty good” about adhering to COVID restrictions, according to Mauter.

“Occasionally, we’ll have an issue where crowds of people are gathering that maybe shouldn’t be, but that circumstance is actually few and far between. I’ve been really impressed at the number of visitors who are practicing social distancing, who are adhering to the COVID precautions,” she said.

Still, parks staff are often fielding visitor concerns about the lack of mask usage on the trails.

“We do occasionally see people wearing masks on the trail, but sometimes people do not wear masks on the trails. Masks are not required in the outdoor spaces, so we don’t enforce that masks must be worn, unless they are in indoor space. You should be wearing them if you are coming within 6 feet of a person, so in those cases, we do ask crowds to spread apart and remind them to practice social distancing,” Mauter said.

More people in the parks means more staff hours in the metropark budget.

“We do see more trash on our busier days, so our maintenance staff is picking up the trash every night and every morning. We are staying on top of it,” Mauter said. “But it never hurts to remind visitors to take care of our greenspaces.”

 

Oakland County Parks and Recreation
Oakland County parks have also seen a rise in park attendance since the spring, according to officials. In March, the Oakland County Parks and Recreation Department waived entry fees for all county parks — a program it continued until June 1 — inviting residents and other guests to enjoy park entry at no cost.

“Our visitor numbers have increased threefold for this time of year based on car counts,” Parks Executive Officer Dan Stencil said in a statement. “It’s obvious people are enjoying a place to stretch their legs and get outdoors with their immediate family. And we have observed that our guests are taking the call to social distancing seriously.”

Oakland County’s parks system covers 7,000 acres of land over 13 different parks — which include two water parks, two campgrounds, three dog parks, five golf courses and various day-use spaces. The parks system has 80 miles of trails for walking, hiking, mountain biking and equestrian riding.

Although the county’s parks have stayed open, some park features — such as the county’s two water parks — remain closed due to COVID-19.

“The months all seem to blend together. In April, we closed off some parking lots and we manned the contact station, allowing a certain number of people to come in and come out, but the visitors have been steady since July,” said Sue Wells, the manager of parks and recreation operations.

The county’s campgrounds and golf courses have been full, Wells said, adding that trail usage is drastically up.

“We’ve had a lot of walkers out at our parks. In the beginning, there were some little conflicts, but they were very, very small. People were starting to learn how to social distance, and they were learning how to walk as a group or individually. Right now, I would say people have been very respectful on the trails,” she said. “We’ve probably had some more user conflicts than we usually do — your bikers versus your walkers versus your dog walkers — because so many people want to get out and enjoy it. It’s managing those. You always, no matter what you do, will have those conflicts.”

As more cars — and people — flock to the county’s parks, so does trash.

“With more people, you see more litter — wherever you’re at — which we’ve addressed, since there is a constant flow of new people in the park,”  Wells said.

She anticipates park attendance to remain steady this fall.

“In the fall, our day-use parks are very busy because of the fall colors and so on. Our recreation program division has also been able to put on programs with social distancing at our nature centers and at our day use parks, so even though the sizes are limited to those programs, we’re going to continue to do those,” she said.

Engaging in any type of physical activity regularly, including exercising for both physical and mental health, may be beneficial in protecting the body and limiting the damage caused by COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC officials said exposure to nature also has positive physical and mental health benefits, including lower rates of heart disease, stroke, obesity, stress and depression.

For more information about the parks and recreation department, please visit cityofsouthfield.com/departments/parks-recreation.

For more information on the Huron Clinton Metroparks, visit metroparks.com or call (810) 227-2757. For more information on Oakland County Parks and Recreation, visit oakgov.com or call (248) 858-0906.

Advertisement