Austin Parks and Rec coping with challenges of COVID-19

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, Austin Parks and Recreation has been trying to find ways to address challenges of the pandemic.

“COVID-19 has presented its challenges, for our department and others, in a number of ways; however, if the stay-at-home order continues, most challenges and effects have yet to be seen,” said Austin Parks and Rec Director Kevin Nelson.

At the most recent Austin City Council meeting, Nelson discussed how the Parks and Rec Department will go about making sure the downtown flowers are going to be maintained because of a hiring freeze the city placed in effect. The decision was made to seek volunteers to water the flowers, though finding volunteers could prove to be a challenge.

“We had very few incidences of ‘no shows’ for the paid flower watering positions, but the related pay is/was a great incentive for getting them to be on time and dependable, even with shifts regularly beginning at 7 a.m. and occasionally at 5 a.m.,” Nelson said. “Flowers might not seem like a big deal to most people, but they are delicate and require daily watering, unless there is a soaking rain overnight the previous evening.”

“We were thinking that some of these volunteers might be those Austin High School students who would be seeking to fulfill volunteer-hour requirements for the Assurance Scholarship applications to the Hormel Foundation,” he added. “I believe their hour requirements are 50 hours total. This essentially would mean that we’d have four needed employees every two weeks.”

Another issue addressed during the meeting was an opening date for the Austin Municipal Pool, which is still yet to be determined. It is an issue facing other communities, who are also delaying their pool openings.

“This decision all hinges upon the governor’s executive orders,” Nelson said. “We have approximately four weeks, possibly a little longer, of prep time to make the pool ready for opening for the season. In order to open by the scheduled opening date, we’d need to know by next week if this is a possibility. I won’t speculate on what the governor will indicate.”

Because of the uncertainty, summer events such as softball, volleyball and other recreational activities have had active registration placed on hold. Pavillion rentals are also on hold.

“The governor’s executive orders currently span quite a host of activities, anything in which a number of people who are not residing within the same household might interactively participate in relatively close proximity to others and/or where physical contact cannot necessarily be avoided,” Nelson said.

Although the trails at the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center are still open to the public, activity registration has also been placed on hold there, as has the ability to rent out the Ruby Rupner Auditorium.

“(Nature Center) staff discussed how we might social distance kids once restrictions are lightened or lifted,” Nelson said. “At present, staff and the two interns have been making activities which they post on Facebook. They’ve also been creating activities which are more family-based, and they make the hand-outs available under the shelter of the entryway at the (Nature Center). Activities vary from week to week, based upon what changes those who are visiting the (Nature Center) may encounter whilst walking the trails.”

For more information on Parks and Rec activities during the pandemic, visit www.ci.austin.mn.us/park-recreation, the Austin Parks and Rec Facebook page, or call 507-433-1881.