Parks director addresses ongoing reopening plan

Thursday, June 25, 2020

By Samantha Jones

Eureka Springs Parks facilities continue to reopen in a phased plan.

At the Eureka Springs Parks Commission meeting on Tuesday, June 16, parks director Justin Huss updated the commission on the phased reopening plan. Huss said phase 2 of the plan is targeted to begin July 3, when camping cabins will reopen Friday through Monday and tent camping will be available again at Lake Leatherwood City Park. Huss said the marina at Lake Leatherwood will be open for business and limited boat rentals Friday through Sunday, with the restrooms and bathhouse operating on a limited schedule.

Huss said Lake Leatherwood had a “soft reopen” on the weekend of June 12-14. It wasn’t advertised much, Huss said, but the park was busy. Huss said the commission brought in $550 through boat rentals that Saturday.

“That was a little too much for staff. We were trying to implement some cleaning procedures between that, and it became a bit of a challenge for them,” Huss said.

Huss said the best way to move forward is by offering boat rentals on a limited basis for the first half of the day, so the staff has the last half of the day to sanitize all the equipment. The restrooms at Lake Leatherwood will also be open on a limited basis, Huss said, for the same reason.

“That’s to keep a different level of cleanliness. We’ve been back and forth on that,” Huss said. “It’s just staffing. If someone’s cleaning it once a day, how effective is that?”

Huss said he has had requests to reopen team sports facilities, especially the soccer fields. He’s not quite ready to do that, Huss said.

“As much as I know they’re wanting to get back to it, I’m not inclined to authorize those yet,” Huss said. “I don’t believe that’s where we are statewide. I don’t think that’s something I want to allow at this point. That’s certainly something to review at a later date.”

“A lot later,” said chairwoman Ruth Hager.

Huss said the downhill mountain biking shuttles will resume July 3 with strict social distancing policies, including running the shuttles at half capacity. Huss said the commission must raise the daily rate to $25 and the half-day rate to $15.

“We have to run two shuttles to have the capacity of one, barely,” Huss said. “With the demand, I think we’ll have plenty of ridership to keep that in the black. I think that will be OK.”

It’s important to reopen the shuttles, Huss said, because the commission is making monthly payments on the vehicles regardless of when the service is running. His biggest concern with the shuttles, Huss said, is safety protocol. Huss said he wasn’t sure if riders should be required to wear masks or if the windows of the shuttles should be open to generate more airflow.

“The respiration rate is 6 feet, but if you’re respirating at a higher level because you just came down the field, it’s potentially further and you’re in that enclosed area,” Huss said.

Huss said the safety of the staff is his number one priority. The cleaning staff has split up responsibilities, Huss said, so employees who interact with the public don’t have to worry so much about cleaning certain facilities.

“We do have a housekeeper on staff who’s taken the prep work for those, keeping that away from our attendant folks. That daily split is something we’re going to have to do until we feel more comfortable with that,” Huss said. “What it comes down to is our staff’s comfort and safety. The safety steps at the marina itself, I think, are good. It’s tough. These are challenging calls.”

Commissioner Christian Super said the COVID-19 numbers are only increasing in Northwest Arkansas and commissioner Cameron DeNoewer agreed.

“The first thing we have to look at is the safety of not only our employees but the safety of everyone, period,” DeNoewer said. “To put a cost on human safety for the price of a boat is absolutely insane. We need to support our people and I think we need to be really, really cautious right now.”

DeNoewer thanked all the staff for their hard work during the pandemic.

“This is a tough situation. I appreciate their patience. I appreciate their understanding,” DeNoewer said. “I think whatever you can implement so they feel safe and not stressed out, so they’re not making stressful mistakes … I think that’s the wisest thing we can do at this point.”

Huss said he doesn’t need the commission to vote on the plan but would like to know he’s on the right track.

“I want the commission support to be part of it, to make you feel like, ‘Yeah, we’re all together,’ ” Hager said.

Huss said all playgrounds will remain closed to the public indefinitely. He’s received all kinds of input from the public on the reopening plan, Huss said.

“I get the pressure from people wanting us to open faster. I get the opinions from people not wanting us to,” Huss said. “It’s hard to sit around and watch these numbers and not feel concerned right now. It becomes very uncomfortable for me when we try to put a price on that. … It’s uncomfortable.”

Hager said reopening is an “economic thing.”

“We don’t have events in Eureka. I don’t personally want events in Eureka right now,” Hager said. “I think we’re fine without them right now … but we need the economy. We need people to spend money. We need things to do besides just being here.”

The commission’s next regular meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, July 21, at The Auditorium.

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