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Parks Remain Open With Plenty Of Space For Social Distancing

Four people standing in front of a row of microphones and a tv camera

       People are working remotely. Children are home from school.  You can’t dine out in your favorite restaurant or hang out in the neighborhood bar.  Movie theaters are dark. Fitness centers closed.    What can you do?   You can still enjoy the great outdoors.  

       Standing at the entrance to Forest Park – the crown jewel in the city of Springfield’s parks system -- parks director Patrick Sullivan said Tuesday that now, more than ever, people need the parks and the parks will remain open.

       "These are large open spaces, so it is very easy for people to keep safe social distances and we have our park crews maintaining the parks, so we are very comfortable with allowing people to enter the parks and enjoy themselves," said Sullivan.  " You look across the street at those apartment buildings, people need to get out and get the air and so forth."

        There are no restrictions on public access to the parks in the city of Springfield, or to state-owned parks anywhere in the Commonwealth for that matter. 

        Although restrooms, visitor centers, pavilions, and fieldhouses are closed, people are free to hike through the woods, walk or jog on the paved areas, use the outdoor recreational facilities including tennis courts, baseball diamonds, and basketball courts.  Social distancing is strongly encouraged and any large groups of people gathered together will be asked to separate, said Sullivan.

        Now that schools are closed and after school activities are off, the city's recreation supervisors will monitor the parks.

       "They will be driving the city and reporting in if they see something, we would then contact the police department to assist us, we are not the enforcement agency."

       Beginning Wednesday, deputies from the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department are patrolling Forest Park between 8 a.m. - 10 p.m. daily until the end of October.   Sheriff Nick Cocchi and Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno on Tuesday announced the continuation of a partnership on the park patrols that was inaugurated last year.

     Cocchi said the role of the deputies is more akin to park rangers than police officers.

    "It is hospitality and public safety," said Cocchi.

     Springfield Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood welcomed the help from the sheriff’s department in watching out for the safety of park visitors.

      " All the help we can get at a time like this," said Clapprood. "It is extraordinary times."

      The Springfield police have had their hands full lately, the commissioner said, with kids on bicycles weaving in-and-out of traffic, doing stunts, and recording the daredevil antics to post on social media.

       At the other end of the state, there was an appeal from Boston Mayor Marty Walsh to young people to take seriously the need for social distancing as a strategy to slow the spread of the virus.

       It is “not a time for house parties,” said Walsh in a live televised address.  He implored people to think of their parents and grandparents who are most at risk of becoming seriously ill if they caught the highly contagious virus.

       Walsh said there are no plans to quarantine the city.

       Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker is on the same page.

       "Let be be clear. We are not planning any shelter-in-place order," Baker said Tuesday.

       Baker said Tuesday that $5 million is being distributed to local boards of health to help cover expenses related to the coronavirus pandemic.

       Mayor Sarno welcomed the announcement.

       " I will go after every dime I can get my hands on for ( Springfield Health and Human Services Commissioner) Helen Caulton-Harris and the health department," Sarno said.

       Sarno said his administration is working on ways it can help businesses and individuals that are suffering economically. He said he may seek state legislation that would allow the city to postpone when taxes and other bills are due.

The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.
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