Closed Playgrounds

Red tape remains up around the playground in Owen Park to keep people off the equipment on Monday in Eau Claire.

Last week’s local public health order allowed them to reopen, but the city of Eau Claire is opting to keep all 27 of its outdoor playgrounds closed for the time being.

Though the Eau Claire City-County Health Department’s prevention and control order issued on Thursday includes playgrounds in the facilities allowed to reopen, city officials feel that can’t yet be done under continuing coronavirus concerns.

“We’re looking at a safe way to do that,” said Steve Plaza, manager of the city’s parks, forestry, cemetery, buildings and grounds. “We got this far; it shouldn’t take much longer. We’re just asking for patience.”

In the wake of the Wisconsin Supreme Court immediately ending the extended statewide safer-at-home order on Wednesday, local health departments could enact their own orders. Lieske Giese, Eau Claire’s health department director, declared that businesses, facilities, playgrounds, campgrounds and other amenities could open and operate, unless they could not maintain certain safety procedures. Among those was increased cleaning and the ability to have six feet of distance between people.

Plaza said the city worried that reopening the playgrounds right after Thursday’s local order would give a “false sense of safety” as the ability to keep them sanitized isn’t available.

“We have 27 playgrounds, and there are a lot of common touch surfaces there,” Plaza said.

Standard cleaning protocols for the city parks’ staff has been to spray disinfectant in restrooms once a day and do spot cleaning as needed, he added.

Plastic caution tape remains wrapped around jungle gyms and other equipment. Wooden barricades and signs deter people from using the playgrounds. Basketball courts remain closed as the city took down or blocked hoops nearly two months ago to deter games. Restrooms haven’t reopened since their seasonal winter closing, and drinking fountains continue to be shut off. The skate park at Lakeshore Park is also closed.

Admittedly, the city doesn’t have the staffing to patrol the playgrounds at all times to ensure no one is using them. Plaza asks that people respect signs, caution tape and barricades

Deterring people from using some park amenities goes against the nature of Plaza and his staff, he said, as many of them have spent their careers fostering outdoor play. The city will notify residents as soon as it is able to reopen playgrounds and other spots safely, he said.

When playgrounds do reopen, Plaza encourages people to practice good hygiene and awareness of their surroundings. Parents are advised to bring hand sanitizer for their children to use. If families see a group of kids already on the playground when they arrive and don’t feel comfortable that everyone will be able to keep a distance between each other, then they could come back when it’s less busy.

“We want people to be self-aware and use common sense,” he said.

The majority of spaces in city parks are already available for use.

General park areas, community gardens, boat landings and docks, fishing spots, open-air shelters, picnic tables, outdoor grills are all open to people. Ball fields, disc golf courses, horseshoe throwing, pickleball and tennis courts, and soccer fields are also open, but only for play between people in the same household, not organized team games.

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