Recreation department provides update on parks opening
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Recreation department provides update on parks opening

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Franklin County Parks and Recreation Director Paul Chapman said the county’s parks have been getting lots of use. While some parks in the region had to close this spring, Franklin County’s parks have remained open.

Chapman said people have been saying how grateful they are to have had the county’s parks open during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Not knowing what’s going to happen and the uncertainty of it all have been Chapman’s biggest challenges in dealing with the pandemic. “We’re on the virus’s timeline,” he said. “We want to serve and offer services, but we have to balance that with what the state says [we can and cannot do].”

Chapman said last Thursday’s opening of the Smith Mountain Lake Community Park beach brought a lot of people out. Due to COVID-19, some things at the beach have changed. The hours have been curtailed, as well as the number of people allowed on the beach at one time. There is also a screening process for those entering.

At any one time, only 100 people are allowed on the beach. Beach goers are urged to text “capacity” to 493-7006 before heading to the beach to get an approximation of availability; however, reservations cannot be taken or openings guaranteed.

“We really do encourage people to text ahead,” said Nikki Custer, athletics and aquatics manager for the department. For those 4 years and older, the cost is $3, payable by cash only.

Other recreational water activities such as kayaking and canoeing are available on the county’s two blueways, the Blackwater River and the Pigg River. Tubes are available for rent at Waid Park.

All the playgrounds at the parks should be open by June 19. Bathrooms are gradually reopening. Because of COVID-19, the department has only 50% of its maintenance crew, which makes it difficult to keep bathrooms clean enough to meet required standards, Chapman said. Explanatory safety signage continues to be placed throughout the parks.

Due to flooding in the spring, Jamison Mill Park is not yet open for camping, but will be available soon, Chapman said.

Matt Ross, the department’s outdoor recreation manager, has been spending the last few months working on the trails at Waid Park. The park has 15 miles of trails, and on June 27 there will be a grand opening of its newest trail, Skeletor, for experienced mountain bike riders. Cardinal Bicycle will be a part of the celebration, providing demonstrations and skills clinics.

Ross said there are lots of trails at Waid Park that will appeal to different types and abilities of cyclists. He said he is especially excited about a video highlighting the use of the park’s bike trails that was posted this week to YouTube. Ross said an updated trail map will be coming out soon.

Being least impacted by COVID-19, Ross said, “I feel there is a tremendous interest in outdoor programming.”

Yoga walking will be starting in July. Participants will engage in a casual walk for one hour with standing yoga stretch breaks every 10 minutes.

For more information about yoga walking, the opening of the Skeletor trail at Waid Park, the SML Community Park beach or other amenities offered by Franklin County Parks and Recreation, visit www.playfranklincounty.com.

As far as fall athletic programs, Custer said, “Everything is open for registration. We are planning so we can proceed. It’s kind of a matter of hurry up and wait.”

Chapman said the department is planning for fall activities, but that could change.

In addition to a reminder that parks close at sunset, “We need to be patient and make sure we are good stewards of the parks,” Custer said.

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