City parks scale up summer programming

Thomas Beach at Bde Maka Ska. Photo by Isaiah Rustad

After initially canceling events and announcing beaches and pools would not formally open for the summer, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board is easing into summer activities by offering adapted recreation programming and staffing lifeguards at popular beaches.

“I think everyone is ready to get out and recreate,” said Mimi Kalb, a recreation manager with the MPRB.

Updates to Gov. Tim Walz’s executive orders related to the coronavirus pandemic released in early June allow for more outdoor activities, and the MPRB is trying to ramp up its seasonal workforce to offer programming and facilities to residents.

“We’re looking at Fourth of July as the kickoff to summer,” said assistant superintendent Tyrize Cox.

By July 4, the MPRB will have lifeguards posted at its most popular beaches, including Cedar Lake’s East Beach, Bde Maka Ska’s Thomas Beach, Lake Harriet’s North Beach and Wirth Lake Beach in and around Southwest. A man drowned at Thomas Beach on June 16 when lifeguards were not posted. About 25% of splash pads and wading pools in the city will also open by July 4, including those of Whitter and Bryant Square in Southwest.

Beyond places to cool down, the MPRB is also expanding play options for kids in a summer when many traditional sports leagues are canceled. The new Fun on the Run program offers free sports and activities for kids under supervision of rec center staff at parks throughout the city on weekday afternoons from 1-4 p.m. In Southwest, the program is at Painter Park on Tuesdays, Kenny Park on Wednesdays and Pershing Park on Thursdays.

“We feel it’s really needed, and kids are wanting to get out and be active,” Kalb said.

Games range from cornhole and potato sack races to badminton and soccer drills, chosen for their natural socially distanced nature or adapted to keep participants spread apart, Kalb said. Staff try to keep the kids spread out and sanitize equipment, she said. The program runs through the end of August.

For those seeking a less rigorous outing, the new Nearby Nature programming encourages self-directed, socially distant ways to improve observational skills and learn about Minnesota plants and animals with events like orienteering challenges, nature quests, making ant amusement parks, story walks that spread book chapters throughout a park and nature-inspired yoga.

“We heard from so many families, ‘We’re so tired of going on a walk,’” said MaryLynn Pulscher, environmental education manager for the MPRB.

Typically, the MPRB brings in several part-time naturalists in the summer months to help with programming. But this year the pandemic slowed that seasonal hiring, so the programming is mostly done with sign-based instructions. “It’s a very different way to think about doing programs when you can’t lead them,” Pulscher said.

Nearby Nature programming is being installed throughout the park system. In Southwest, activities are available at Bryant Square, Clinton Field, Lyndale Farmstead, Mueller, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Whittier.