Families enjoy first day back at playgrounds

Photo by Kayla Renie/The Herald
Tyson Hunter, 12, top right, and his cousins, Lennon Erny, 6, Jillian Erny, 4, Rue Erny, 1, and Porter Beach, 6, all of Jasper, lay in a tunnel together at Lions Riverview Park in Jasper on Friday. On Friday, playground opened to the public for the first since since closing in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. "We used to always drive by and feel sad because it was closed," said Britni Erny, Lennon, Rue and Jillian's mom. "It feels good to finally have the kids be able to come back and play together again."


JASPER — A day at the park with your kids used to seem so normal.

It was a given that families would head to the playground on a clear day and let the kids tire themselves out just enough for an afternoon nap. But that was before COVID-19 arrived and disrupted normal life. A day in the park suddenly became a precarious endeavor, especially with the early uncertainty that came as scientists worked to learn how the coronavirus behaved and spread. The routine changed to social distancing, self-isolation and a lot of time spent in the house.

But things are shifting back. The Jasper Park and Recreation Department reopened its playgrounds Friday, and a few pioneering families ventured out to stretch their legs. Jordan Beach, 31, and two of her sons, Braylon and Porter, got in their first bit of playground time since March at Lions Riverview Park along Riverwalk, and it’s an event they had anticipated for months.

“We’ve been looking for it,” Jordan said. “There’s limited stuff that we’ve been able to do with the lockdown. We’ve been paying attention on Facebook and through the paper [to see] when they’re going to start opening.”

“I really like it,” added 9-year-old Braylon, who likes to climb on everything he can when he comes to the playground.

Jordan was joined by her sister, Britni Erny, and Britni’s five children a short time later. The kids piled out of the van and took off in every direction. Some went on the swings, others took over the jungle gym and a couple went to explore the creek that runs through the park. Britni, 34, is a stay-at-home mom and said she would come to the park three to four times a week with her children that aren’t in school yet. She and her kids couldn’t wait to get back outside.

Jordan Beach swings with her niece, Rue Erny, 1, both of Jasper, at Lions Riverview Park in Jasper on Friday. Playgrounds are now open to the public after closing in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It feels so good,” she said. “That’s the one thing my kids wanted to do. They were excited to get up this morning.”

More families came out as morning gave way to the afternoon. Anne Hager, 33, came from Huntingburg to enjoy the day out with her son, Alex, and remembers being at a playground a couple of days before Gov. Eric Holcomb announced the first wave of statewide shutdowns. Anne has taken Alex out for walks and tricycle rides in the interim, but she could tell he missed being on the swings and slides at the playground.

“He’s been asking me about it for three months,” said Anne, who estimated that she and Alex went to the park at least three days a week before the shutdown. “I can tell he’s a lot happier to be playing on a playground.”

Josh Dahmer and his family, which includes four kids, set up shop around the jungle gym that afternoon. They joined the chorus of everyone else who passed through the park, celebrating the return of playing out in public.

“It feels good to be out,” said Josh, who said most of the family’s outside time has been focused at their house. They practiced social distancing and wore masks the few times they’ve ventured beyond their house during the pandemic. “We got out a little bit but not as much as we have the last week or two,” he said.

“We’re not used to being cooped up all the time,” added 12-year-old Luke Dahmer, who’s looking forward to being able to play with his friends again.

No one was wearing masks at the playground, but there were other signs of the times present in how the families conducted themselves as they came out to play.

Lennon Erny, 6, of Jasper, and her brother, Hunter, 8, play on a seesaw at Lions Riverview Park in Jasper on Friday.

Jordan and Britni felt comfortable allowing their kids to share the park and only stayed for a little over an hour in the late morning. Anne and Josh arrived at nearly the same time in the afternoon, but each family stuck to their side of the bridge. Everyone said they were still going to keep up the hygiene practices with using hand sanitizer and cleaning wipes after playing, plus additional hand washing once they got home. A few of them even said they probably wouldn’t let their kids play at a playground if it was too full with other kids.

Still, the families appreciated taking a step toward getting back to their normal routines. Views are a bit mixed on what the immediate future will look like, but it was nice to stretch out for at least one day.

“I think [it’s] 50-50,” Britni said. “I have some friends that are like, ‘No way.’ Then I have some that are like, ‘We can’t wait to come.’ It’s definitely a mixed reaction.”

“I think people will come out,” Anne said. “I think people were disappointed they couldn’t come last month. I would like it to be as normal as possible. I think if you take precautions, there’s no reason you can’t be out and about.”

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