Park events canceled for summer; beaches, pools won’t open

Cedar Lake South Beach, and other city beaches will not be opened to the public or staffed with life guards this summer due to the coronavirus pandemic. File photo

Minneapolis beaches and pools will not open this summer and all Park Board hosted events are canceled through August due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board will keep its public spaces open but will not host events or open beaches or pools in an effort to discourage group congregations and promote social distancing, the organization announced April 1. 

“Social distancing will be a part of our lives for many months to come,” MPRB Superintendent Al Bangoura said.  

The Park Board will hold a special meeting on Monday, April 6, to vote on a resolution that would give Bangoura some emergency authority powers to respond to the crisis.

Events like Earth Day, Arbor Day, Juneteenth and the Fourth of July Red, White and Boom music and fireworks won’t happen this year. 

All recreational sports leagues that place competitors in close proximity are canceled. Athletic fields are not being striped this summer, soccer goals will not be put out and volleyball nets will not be erected, Bangoura said. The MRPB will not be removing basketball hoops, though games are prohibited. People can shoot hoops and play catch, Bangoura said, but most team sports will be discouraged. Sports like tennis that can be played at a distance are allowed. Golf is currently not permitted under the statewide stay-at-home order, but the MPRB is hoping to open its courses to the public soon. 

To encourage social distancing in the parks, the MPRB has installed signs across the system and, beginning April 11, plans to start sending out employees in ambassador roles to promote the new rules and safe park use. 

Some commissioners believe that might not be enough. Many say they’ve been flooded with emails and phone calls from people concerned about crowding in the parks and kids playing basketball and soccer. 

“I’m not quite convinced we’re responding to this fast enough,” Commissioner Steffanie Musich (District 5) said, adding parks could become a public health risk and that she doesn’t think signage is enough.

“Do we need to be shutting them down if people are non compliant?” she asked. 

The MPRB is trying to follow MDH guidance, Bangoura said, and the agency has not recommended closing parks at this point. Even if parks were to be formally closed, enforcement would be extremely hard, he added. Bangoura said he is hopeful the ambassador program will be effective and said Park Police will not be enforcing social distancing with punitive measures.

Public water fountains and bathrooms throughout the park system will remain closed at the recommendation of the Minnesota Department of Health. The MPRB staff are working on getting some hand-washing stations installed in parks, especially in areas where people experiencing homelessness congregate, and will be adding additional portable toilets, which receive regular cleaning. 

Lakes will still be open to the public for kayaking, canoeing and other activities, but beaches will not be staffed with life guards this summer and congregating at beaches will be discouraged.

Permitted events in parks not hosted by the MPRB, like the Twin Cities Half Marathon and 5K on July 4, are still scheduled unless canceled by the host. Several of those events, like Rock the Garden in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, have been canceled. Others like Twin Cities Pride Festival in Loring Park have been postponed.

Permitted events like weddings and other small gatherings in rented MPRB spaces like Nicollet Island Pavilion are allowed to occur after Park Board rec centers open up after May 3.

Playgrounds remain open, but the MPRB is not regularly sanitizing equipment and users are encouraged to thoroughly wash their hands before and after use.

Economic impact 

The sudden loss of revenue from recreational sports and hosting events could add up quickly for the MPRB and severely impact the organization going forward, according to financial director Julia Wiseman. The agency is estimating a loss of $3.4 million through June 30. If events are unable to take place all year, the MPRB could lose about $8 million in expected revenue.

The MPRB, like other public entities, is required to maintain a reserve general fund balance of 5% of its budget, about $4.5 million, but can dip into that money in case of an emergency like the coronavirus pandemic, Wiseman said. Should the events be canceled through the summer as currently planned, the agency could miss out on $2.2 million in expected revenue during peak activity months. That will mean looking at ways to cut expenses and costs.

“Everything is on the table as we look at long-term impacts,” she said. 

Clarification: This story has been updated to reflect that some permitted events in Minneapolis parks not hosted by the MPRB are still scheduled to occur.