After much discussion regarding the COVID-19-forced social distancing, the Great Bend City Council meeting virtually Monday night voted 7-1 to reopen Stone and Rotary (MacArthur) lakes to fishing only, and Veterans Memorial Lake to fishing and all activities, except that the playground equipment will be closed. All restroom facilities will remain closed.
There is no change in the closure of Brit Spaugh or any other city park.
This is a slight reversal of action taken during a special Friday meeting March 20. At that time, the closing of all city facilities was approved, but by a split council.
One of the opponents to the total closure was Councilman Dana Dawson, and it was Dawson who wanted to address the partial opening of the parks Monday.
“I would just like to allow fishing at Stone Lake and MacArthur Lake,” he said. “These are both more in a wilderness setting. At best, they’ve got maybe one picnic table there.”
If gatherings exceed the 10-person limit and restrictions set forth by the city and Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly’s executive order, the police can still break it up, Dawson said.
“People do need something to do,” he said. Fishing by yourself is pretty much in line with any social distancing measures.
He then moved to allow fishing at the two parks.
But, “I guess the one question I’m going to have is if we’re going to do two, why don’t we do Vets,” Mayor Cody Schmidt said of Veterans Memorial Lake.
“That would be fine with me if it is with everybody else,” Dawson said.”But a lot of people have objected because of the playground equipment.
Although he had no issues with opening Stone and Rotary lakes, “Veterans is one I do have a concern with.”
He saw problems with the playgrounds and restrooms. Referring to Centers for Disease and Control and Health Department guidelines, he didn’t see any way city personnel could keep them disinfected properly.
“We can go and clean them three four times a day, but the minute we walk out of there, if somebody was actually a positive for COVID-19, there’s a chance we could be infecting the rest of the public.”
Fishing is all that is available at Stone and Rotary, Public Lands Director Scott Keeler said. But, there is more to do at Vets.
“If we let one person in there to fish, that means we ought to let the rest of them come in and do their thing too,” he said. He favored keeping Vets closed.
“The bathrooms aren’t a concern to me as we (can) lock them,” Schmidt said. “I just think that there’s so many people wanting to walk through Vets with the path through there and just around the road.”
He said he had been in contact with the Great Bend Recreation Commission who recommended opening some of the facilities at Veterans Park. He just thought something could be done to fence off the playgrounds.
“You know, we are in a stay-at-home order and they don’t recommend that you jump in your car and drive clear across town to go fishing,” Schmidt said. “So if we can open them and benefit everybody in their neighborhoods, I guess I’m going to make a motion to open all three and the city staff will just have to work together first thing tomorrow. I’ll make a motion to block off the playgrounds at Vets.”
However, “you’re out of order, actually,” Councilman Barry Bowers said. “We have a motion (the one made by Dawson). We’re waiting on a second.”
And, Bowers said to the mayor, “I don’t believe you can make a motion.” It is up to the mayor to entertain motions from the council, not the other way around.
This prompted Dawson to withdraw his first motion and moved to allow fishing at all three lakes. However, there was confusion among council members about other activities available at Vets, such as the walking path, dog park and disc golf, and what all was being opened.
So, again, Dawson withdrew his motion, moving to allow fishing at Stone and Rotary, and to allow all activities at Vets, with the exception of the playground equipment.
Bowers still questioned opening Veterans Memorial Park.
A logistical nightmare?
“How much of a logistical nightmare are we creating instead of just waiting two weeks” until the stay-at-home order is lifted?” Bowers asked. “I mean, we’re talking about fencing off playground equipment. That’s a lot of labor, I think.
“We went from fishing to opening in the park wide open,” Bowers said. “I think that’s a big leap.”
This led to talk about using snow fencing or barricades to block off the playgrounds.
“It would be substantially more labor intensive,” City Administrator Kendal Francis said of blocking off play areas. He also brought up organized frisbee disc golf tournaments.
But, in the end, the majority of the council favored the reopening.
The city is looking at this as a trial run, officials said. If the opening up of the parks is abused, they may be closed again. “It’s up to the public to have a little bit of pride and do what’s right for themselves as well,” Schmidt said.