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EC pool closed for last-minute repairs; CF pool's opening date unclear

Fairfax Park Pool in Eau Claire won’t open until at least July 1 – but the delay has nothing to do with COVID-19.

Recreation manager Dawn Comte said last-minute repairs to a leaking water line, which was just discovered last week, is causing the extended shutdown.

“We noticed we were losing our recovery water last year,” Comte said Thursday. “Our pool is about 30 years old. We had a good, early spring, and we were able to get in and find a water line that needed to be repaired. We’re actually happy we found something, because now we know.”

The work on the line started last week and is already fixed. However, the next step is pouring new concrete on the floor of the pool, and a specific mix is needed for pools, she said.

“It’s been moving as fast as we can,” she said.

There is no guarantee the pool will open in July, she added.

“We’re trying to be hopeful and optimistic we can open the pool to our community,” Comte said. “We are encouraging our leadership to open the pool.”

However, Comte said guidelines on how many people can gather in one location at a time will ultimately be the factor in the decision if they open.

The pool was slated to open on Saturday. Comte said staff has been hired so if they get the go-ahead, those workers will still need to be trained before the pool opens. The pool also still would need to be filled with water.

Other pools in the area are still figuring out their opening dates.

Chippewa Falls parks director Dick Hebert knows people are anxious to find out if and when the Bernard Willi Municipal Pool will open this year. However, he is asking for patience.

“For us, it’s undecided, or yet to be determined,” Hebert said Thursday.

Officials from area parks and recreation departments have been meeting this week to discuss when certain aspects of parks will reopen.

“We put together some tentative guidelines,” he said. “We’re trying to be consistent, as much as possible. We all work with different health departments.”

Hebert said Chippewa Falls typically opens the pool on the first Saturday of June.

However, many cities across the state are considering opening in July, while others are planning to cancel for the entire summer, he said. Hebert said he hopes to be able to finalize plans soon, but he acknowledges there are challenges.

“How do we tell kids to social distance?” Hebert said.

In Stanley, the city’s municipal pool is connected to the Stanley-Boyd High School.

Ben Isenberger, Stanley’s aquatic director, explained that the state’s order that closed all school buildings means “we are for sure shut down until June 30.”

“I don’t know what the next step is, what the regulations will be, or what our locker room policy will be,” Isenberger said, adding he’s having a hard time finding regulations. “Maybe we don’t put tables out for people to sit on.”

However, other pools in the area are opening up. Chaos Water Park at the Metropolis Resort & Conference Center in Eau Claire will open at 4 p.m. today. Action City also will open at 9 a.m. today.

“We’ve been working with the health department and following all their guidelines,” said Billy Bandli, Action City general manager. “Our capacity will be limited some. We have the mini-golf course, which is outside and people can spread out.”

Bandli said they will be sanitizing all tubes after each use.

“We’ve been going through and spacing out tables,” Bandli said. “The (Centers for Disease Control) is not concerned about transmissions through the water; it’s things around the water. We’re encouraging people to come if they feel safe.”

The YMCA of the Chippewa Valley pools in Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls will reopen on a limited basis June 1.

Opening the parks

The playground equipment in Chippewa Falls is already open. Hebert said the walkways to the zoo will open at 10 a.m. today, and the basketball courts also will open.

“The message is going to be, ‘use at your own risk’ and also the recommendation to wash your hands before and after using park facilities,” Hebert said.

Other aspects of the city’s parks remain closed, as all but one bathroom building hasn’t opened. Hebert said he also doesn’t have a timeline for opening the zoo, splash pad, allowing for shelter reservations, or games at Casper Park.

“It’s the same challenges as the pool,” Hebert said. “You are dealing with kids, and groups of more than 10.”

Also, new signage will be placed throughout city parks, explaining the new guidelines.


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Memorial Day parade replaced with solemn video honoring veterans

In a typical year with good weather, up to 6,000 spectators watch the Memorial Day parade from Wilson Park to Owen Park in Eau Claire, featuring nine bands from area schools.

However, like so many other events across the Chippewa Valley, this year’s parade was canceled because of COVID-19 concerns.

“When the stay-at-home order was issued, I worked with the parks and recreation department,” said Ron Martin, president of the Eau Claire Patriotic Council. “We knew the parade would be canceled.”

Martin added: “I’m sad we can’t gather as a community, face-to-face, but it’s the best thing for our community, because I’d feel horrible if someone got sick.”

When the stay-at-home order was thrown out by the state Supreme Court last week, Martin said it was already too late to consider trying to pull a Memorial Day parade together at the last minute.

Planning the parade means obtaining street use permits, lining up law enforcement and volunteers, and assembling floats and bands in place.

“None of the kids have been in school, so none of them were prepared,” Martin said. “A parade would have been impossible to pull off. And a lot of veterans are up there in age, in the high-risk area.”

So Martin and a handful of others recorded a 15-minute video that will air on WQOW-TV 18 at 11:45 a.m. Monday. The video was shot at the starting point of the parade, which is usually a solemn scene that most people don’t see. Gold Star Mother Kaye Olson placed a wreath in the Eau Claire River, four members of a firing squad performed their duties, and a list of all the Eau Claire County veterans who have died in the last year was displayed. “Taps” was played by a bugler. Martin said they were able to keep the group to 10 people, including the camera crew.

“I think it was my first experience seeing it,” Martin said of the opening ceremony.

He explained he is usually busy on the parade route. He said it is a moving tribute and hopes people tune in to see it.

Martin said organizers compile the list of deceased Eau Claire County veterans each year, combing through obituaries and death records. This year’s list contains about 100 veterans. The list is an important part of the Memorial Day festivities, he said.

“It means a lot to our veterans, to honor those who have fallen,” Martin said.

In Chippewa Falls, the decision to cancel the Memorial Day festivities was made last week, said Leroy Janke, president of the Chippewa Falls Patriotic Council.

“Our parade was canceled, along with our program at Irvine Park,” Janke said.

A few private events will be held with the firing squad, but Janke said organizers opted to not do any public gatherings.

“It’s a pretty subdued weekend,” Janke said. “We could have done a little ceremony, but we decided just to pass on it. We don’t need large gatherings and there is always the concerns about liability.”

The Patriotic Council will still work numerous hours this weekend to honor veterans, he added. “We are putting out graveside flags at cemeteries (today) and Saturday; it’s several thousand flags we put out.”

Janke anticipates the Patriotic Council will be busy as society slowly reopens.

“We haven’t been doing any military funerals, either,” Janke said. “When things open up, I think we’ll be busy, with 2-3-4 on Saturdays.”

Both Martin and Janke said they will start work on the 2021 Memorial Day parades earlier than usual to make up for not having one this year.

“We’ve never had to cancel before,” Martin said. “We like to get people out to recognize the importance of the day.”


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Dunn County Fair will be closed to the public

The Dunn County Fair will not be the same this year.

The annual fair in July will be closed to the general public, with no carnival or grandstand events, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The County Board on Wednesday night adopted a resolution that allows only 4-H and other youth-group-related activities to continue. All other elements of the fair, including the grandstand events, carnival, food court, food trucks, beer gardens, free entertainment stage and commercial building displays, will not take place.

The fair is scheduled for July 22-26.

“The main purpose was to make sure that we allow the youth of Dunn County to be able to show their projects, whether it be 4-H, FFA and other youth activities at the fair,” Supervisor Chuck Maves said. “We all understand and know how important that is.”

How the youth activities will be conducted to follow the resolution is up to the Fair Board, Maves said. The resolution was drafted with the understanding that administrative order 20-1 from the health department will be in effect, which advises against the gathering of 10 or more people in an enclosed space. The current order from the Dunn County Health Department is set to expire May 26.

The resolution states the fair shall only consist of 4-H and other youth group activities that can be conducted remotely. County manager Paul Miller said the intent of the language is that these activities could be done remotely if needed, but there is no requirement that it must be done that way.

There’s no intent from law enforcement or the health department to prohibit these activities if they can be done safely, he said.

“Our intent here is not to prohibit the 4-H, FFA and other youth-oriented activities from the organizations that take place, but rather to ensure that doing so we’re trying to, by the best of our ability, follow the recommendations from the public health department regarding COVID,” Miller said.

“I believe the proper interpretation, and I can certainly attest to the intent of this resolution, is to be permissive and not dismissive or prohibitive, and that’s the way we will interpret in in terms of application.”

Maves added that removing other activities from the commercial building will allow more space to conduct the youth project events.

The Fair Board released a statement on Thursday stating it will respectfully comply with the resolution. The Fair Board remains in communication with county officials, the Wisconsin Association of Fairs, International Association of Fairs and Expositions and others in the fair industry. More information on refunds and alternative plans for junior fair exhibits will be released at a later date.

“Our hearts are heavy knowing we cannot gather for our annual celebration as we have during the past 134 years, but now and always, the health and safety of our guests, participants and community is our highest priority,” fair board president Deb Gotlibson said. “Our mission is to provide an entertaining and educational event for people of all ages; we strive to do so in a safe and secure environment.”

Supervisor Larry Bjork said although the circumstances are different, discussion on the postponement or cancellation of the fair occurred in 1980 after a damaging wind storm. Most of Dunn County was without electricity but the fair went on and people adjusted.

“We don’t have trees across our driveways but we have restrictions in other areas,” Bjork said, “and I think you give the task to the people in Dunn County that work with youth in different areas and they’ll find an answer. It won’t be the same but it will be something to remember.”