Summer recreation will be back in the cards for Flin Flon, despite the COVID-19 outbreak.
At their May 5 meeting, the City of Flin Flon announced its plans for parks and recreation this year, opting to reopen several services while pledging to faithfully follow provincial public health guidelines.
Among the new rulings is opening some services previously tied to the Flin Flon Aqua Centre, including swimming lessons and Aquafit classes, at Channing Beach. The waters of Schist Lake will replace the chlorinated water at the now-shuttered Aqua Centre.
“There are plans for the summer including offering swimming lessons and Aquafit at Channing Beach, as well as having attendants and guards for certain hours and having activities and rentals available as the province allows,” said Mayor Cal Huntley while reading a report from City of Flin Flon recreation director Nicole Hartman.
“Safety of staff and the public is most important. We don't want to risk losing the little bit of freedom that we've just got,” said Huntley.
Summer in the Parks will be able to operate, City officials said, including new programming. The program will run five days a week and will include two days per week with programming geared towards older kids.
“The city will be able to operate within those guidelines with no problems. We will use the infection control guides for childcare centers,” said Huntley while reading the report.
The Joe Brain Petting Zoo will remain open during the summer months.
“The zoo will be quite easy to control numbers, with two gated areas. We are able to operate following guidelines,” Huntley read.
Rotary Park and the splash pad there are slated to open, with some extra activities planned at the park following public health guidelines.
Flinty’s Campground is planned to open as originally scheduled on May long weekend, but the nearby Rotary Wheel will remain closed until larger public gatherings are authorized, likely in September at the earliest according to current provincial rules.
Camp Whitney will “not be able to operate”, with no overnight stays or large events possible until public gathering limits are expanded.
Huntley said the reopenings could be a signal of life returning to normal for Flin Flonners stuck riding out the COVID-19 outbreak.
“I know we’ve been closed in for a very long time. We’re getting a little bit more freedom, but it’s very clear that we have to follow the guidelines,” Huntley said.
Most of the services being reopened will be available to the public at the end of June.
The plans came with some concerns from members of city council.
“I have some concerns with crowd control initiatives. It's great that we can offer Summer in the Parks. I'm a little hesitant, but I tend to give our managers the benefit of a doubt when they make a decision like that, I'll back them up when I can,” said councillor Tim Babcock.
“As far as opening up our parks, having programming, activities at the beach… nothing attracts a crowd like a crowd. It’s great if there’s no virus here, then there’s no virus to spread, but if it does show up, you don’t know about it for two weeks. I’m really leery of doing planned activities and the City sponsoring it, saying ‘Yeah, come on out, we’re going to have some fun. It makes me really nervous that we’re opening something that we can’t close if things go bad.”
Huntley said he believed the City could change operations or close some services if conditions with COVID-19 change. No new cases of the disease have been reported in northern Manitoba since April 8.
Councillor Colleen McKee added concern that the COVID-19 situation in northern Saskatchewan could mean changes for programs and an increased exposure for illness.
“We’re following provincial guidelines and we’re doing this and doing that and I think so far our province has done really well. We have a sister province that’s struggling right now,” said McKee.
“I really think now’s not the time to start making mistakes. I think that we have to be vigilant. I think that we have to be diligent in how we offer our delivered services.”
McKee said she was not in favour of reopening City recreation services during the outbreak.
“At this point, I’m not in favour of pursuing this,” she said.
The plan as presented was not voted on by councillors. As a notice from the City’s recreation department, the plan was not subject to a vote - rather, it was a heads-up to council of the recreation department’s plans.
“Just to be clear - this is an operation plan. This isn’t a yea or nay from us,” Huntley said.
“We have the opportunity to ensure that things are being done within the guidelines and those assurances were given by the rec director, but we need to follow up on that if they can't be done, then we would close the activity down. There's no doubt about that.”
McKee asked for clarification.
“You’re saying that if we are not in favour of the plan or we’re not in favour of a day camp going forward, that we don’t really have a say in it because it’s operational?”
Huntley confirmed, adding “It’s an operational part of the City. If they’re maintaining the rules. We can set policy but we don’t do the operations.”
When asked later, Huntley confirmed openings and operations could be rethought later in the summer.
“As the rules change, the ability to offer services and how people participate, if there's changes to the negative work or the positive.”
When asked how the City would enforce social distancing rules at recreation facilities including Channing Beach, Huntley added city council was not yet privy to recreation’s exact plans.