Social distancing encouraged in the great outdoors

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Boxelder trees provide an A-frame for these people walking a dog Tuesday, April 14, 2020, in Jamestown's McElroy Park. John M. Steiner / The Sun

It may have shut down recreational facilities, businesses, schools and church buildings but the coronavirus pandemic has not closed down nature.

For the most part.

"Our parks and trails are open," said Doug Hogan, Jamestown Parks and Recreation director. "We haven't closed any of those spaces - people just need to pay attention to the guidelines that we have seen and been hearing about for the last month."

As of April 14, North Dakota has seen 341 positive cases of COVID-19 since the state's first case on March 11. The death toll has risen to nine in the state. Stutsman County has seen one positive case of the virus at this time. Hogan said while the parks and trails are open the department has and will take precautionary measures to ensure community safety.

"We've put signs out to encourage people to practice social distancing, we've closed our playgrounds, we have not opened any of the restrooms and we probably won't until some of the restrictions are lifted," Hogan said. "If we have to take more extreme measures to maintain everyone's safety then we will have to do it."


According to health officials, 135 of the 341 documented cases of the coronavirus were contracted by community spread. Community spread is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as the "spread of an illness for which the source of infection is unknown."

Hillcrest Golf Course will likely be opening for the season next week. Hogan said course fees, registrations and memberships will be purchased online. At this time Hillcrest will open for walking only. Once carts are implemented only one golfer will be allowed per cart and only two golfers will be allowed per group. Every other tee time will be eliminated in efforts to maintain a respectable distance. Flag sticks will be nixed and the cup turned upside down an inch or two above the ground so the putter can limit contact with multiple surfaces.

"People need to understand that this is some serious stuff. We more than likely haven't seen the worst of it," Hogan said of the coronavirus. "We need to be sensible about things. People need to understand that they need to take all of the precautions that are being recommended. That's about all you can do right now."

Due in part to the pandemic and to the prolonged winter weather many outdoor parks and recreational facilities are still closed. The department is still dealing with frost and extra moisture in some areas so in efforts to create a safe and well-maintained area Hogan asked residents to stay off of the soccer, baseball and softball fields.

"Typically in the springtime, we ask people to stay off of the fields until they are ready," Hogan said. "But hopefully we won't be seeing groups of people playing soccer or softball or anything like that. We can't be doing that stuff yet. That's going to be down the road. If we see an area that starts to become a gathering place we will probably have to close it down."

While basketball courts, playgrounds and other recreational areas are closed down for the time being Hogan said it's important to exercise physically and mentally.

"It's important for people to be able to get out and use those parks and be active," Hogan said. "We recognize the fact that people need to be able to get out there and get that release but they also need to take heed to all of the cautions that we hear and see."

Residents of the Buffalo City cannot only utilize the parks and recreational facilities but also the Talking Trail - a trail that allows for an audio-guided historical tour of the community. A map of Talking Trail stops can be found on the Discover Jamestown North Dakota website at . Interested parties can dial the number listed in the brochure to begin the tour. There are more than 70 stops throughout the town.


"We have a 360 tour that we use to invite people to Jamestown," said Searle Swedlund, executive director, Jamestown Tourism. "It's sort of fun to point at that and look at the spaces around our community that are still active and happening."

Swedlund said there are six biking trails that will be available to the public as soon as the weather conditions permit. Due to high moisture content in the soil as of this time, Swedlund asked members of the community to avoid the biking trails to prevent damage. Swedlund said a social media post will be made once trails are dry enough to be ridden on. Due to the unknowns of the pandemic, Swedlund said the tourism organization has been mindful of what events and activities are available to the public.

"We're getting to the time where people are going to be ready for that message but in the weeks preceding I think people have been really uncertain," Swedlund said. "Every time that we have delivered a message we have been very careful to acknowledge that personal safety is important.

"As a result, it's hard to create inspiration or excitement around that movement until we are really told as a culture that it is safe to start moving about again," he said. "We have been very respectful of that message and tried to work with all of the people who are trying to encourage people to stay put and keep the spreading from happening."

Both of the organizations spoke of engaging in local activities that practice social distancing methods. Local events and open activity sites can be found on the Jamestown ND Facebook page or at . The Parks and Recreation Department updates can be found at .

"I think we would just point at those (social distancing) measures and expect people to know what is best and safe for them," Swedlund said.

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The entrance to the Skate Park in McElroy Park is boarded up due to the coronavirus epidemic. John M. Steiner / The Sun

Gerber is a sports writer for the Jamestown Sun.
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