Parks facilities ‘in demand’ during phased reopening plan

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

By Samantha Jones

With so many outdoor recreational opportunities, Eureka Springs parks are popular any time of the year. That’s especially true during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to parks director Justin Huss.

“Parks are certainly in demand. We have a lot of people there,” Huss said. “Our most challenging thing is keeping everybody distant and working on those procedures to keep everybody safe and happy. It’s nice to see people recreating and we’re trying to learn as we go like everybody else.”

The Eureka Springs Parks and Recreation Commission launched phase 2 of its reopening plan on July 3, when camping cabins reopened Friday through Monday and tent camping became available again at Lake Leatherwood City Park. The marina at Lake Leatherwood is open for business and limited boat rentals Friday through Sunday, with the restrooms and bathhouse operating on a limited scheduled.

The downhill mountain biking shuttles resumed on July 3 with strict social distancing policies, including running the shuttles at half capacity. The commission raised the daily rate to $25 and the half-day rate to $15. Huss said the downhill trails are always busy, saying the only thing that deters cyclists is bad weather.

“This past weekend was our first weekend of shuttles. We had some rain on Saturday, so we didn’t really run on Saturday,” Huss said. “The holiday weekends are always hit or miss.”

The commission has completed some important trail maintenance, Huss said.

“We’ve done some widening on the turnarounds, getting some of the mechanics down,” Huss said. “We’re looking forward to that. We’ll go again this weekend and keep working on all of that.”

Huss said Plexiglas dividers have been installed at cash registers to prevent transmission of the virus.

“We’re utilizing our walk-up window at Lake Leatherwood, just trying to manage the crowds,” Huss said.

He’s already seen a huge response to reopening the cabins and tent camping, Huss said.

“We do have a ton of reservations going forward for a lot of weekends. The biggest concerns on those were our restrooms, so we’re going to do our best to spray and clean the best we can,” Huss said. “We ask everybody to take precaution.”

As the numbers of those infected with the virus increase in the state, Huss said, the commission must make some difficult decisions.

“It’s very challenging to balance providing access to our resources in a safe way,” Huss said. “Our staff is our biggest concern, because they get exposed to so many people. We want to make sure we do everything we can to protect them every step of the way.”

Huss said he regularly asks parks employees how they feel about the safety protocols.

“That’s helping us evolve. We’re fine tuning everything. That’s what we’re trying to do  – keep communicating with staff and have them communicate with us,” Huss said. “From there, we are finding a good middle ground that’s reasonable and safe.”

The commission was forced to furlough several employees, Huss said, to make it through the pandemic.

“Payroll is the only place we have to save money,” Huss said. “We’re doing everything we can within our budget and funds.”

Huss said the commission plans to look at the finances in September to get a better idea of what to expect in the fall.

“These are challenging times. It’s hard to know which way to go. I’m glad the commission is taking input from all commissioners and the community,” Huss said. “We did what we did maybe a little slower than people would like, but we felt like we were taking careful steps and keeping our staff and everybody’s safety in mind.”

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