Outdoor facilities remain open in county

Photos by Marlena Sloss/The Herald
Bethany Mingus of Jasper walks at the Jasper Parklands in Jasper on Tuesday. Local municipalities have canceled sports and other events at area parks, and rentals of park properties are suspended, but the playgrounds and trails remain open, as do the golf courses and Huntingburg’s disc golf course.


Even in times of social distancing, people still need something to do and somewhere to go.

That’s the idea shared by local parks leaders as they keep area parks as open as possible for the public to use.

“They’re all open areas, so we’re not closing them,” Jasper Parks Director Ken Buck said. “We’re asking people to keep a little distance from each other. But people have to go someplace. They have to have something to do.”

Local municipalities have canceled sports and other events at the parks, and rentals of park properties are suspended, but the playgrounds and trails remain open, as do the golf courses and Huntingburg’s disc golf course. And they’re being used.

Buck said the Parklands on the city’s northside has been packed with hardly an open parking spot.

At the county park, the campground and other facilities aren’t open yet, but the trails are.

“If people want to go out there and walk, that’s one thing,” Dubois County Park Board President Christine Prior said. “But we just don’t want them to start to gather.”

Ellie Schmitt, 8, of Jasper, leaps over a gap between stepping stones while her brother, Jobe, 6, left, sister, Kate, 10 months, and mother, Chrissy, walk at the Jasper Parklands in Jasper on Tuesday. With schools closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and students doing e-learning days, Chrissy said her children are feeling cooped up at home and everyone needed fresh air. "They miss their friends, they miss their teachers," she said.

Park leaders also remind the public that parks facilities are not being sanitized after every use. Jasper has provided wipes in the park restrooms, and asks visitors to wipe down surfaces they touch, and the other parks are maintaining their regular cleaning schedules.

According to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources website, DNR-operated sites remain open, as do campgrounds, cabins and inns, although restaurants within the inns are serving carry-out only.

“The Indiana Department of Natural Resources is committed to ensuring that our guests and staff continue to have safe and memorable outdoor experiences at our state parks, state forests, fish and wildlife areas, nature preserves and state recreation areas in light of the novel coronavirus,” a notice on the DNR website says.

Locally, that means Patoka Lake, Ferdinand State Forest and Lincoln State Park are open to the public. On Saturday, Patoka Lake will have the birds of prey in the enclosure outside the nature center for visitors to see, and the Spring Into Fitness hike is still on, though participants will be asked to maintain the recommended six feet apart from each other.

The Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial is open as well, though the visitor’s center is closed.

The playgrounds at both Holy Trinity Catholic School campuses are also open for children to play on, though Fr. Gary Kaiser said the staff is asking visitors to keep in mind that the playground equipment is not being sanitized.

Earlier this week, Kaiser posted a photo of kids playing blacktop games at Precious Blood Catholic Church, along with encouragement for kids to get outside while still observing social distancing.

Kaiser said he’s encouraging the families at Holy Trinity and within his parish — he leads Precious Blood — to get outside during this time while still maintaining social distancing.

“We have to focus on staying balanced in our lives,” he said.

Getting outdoors can help with that, he said, as can being aware of others’ anxieties at this time and being gracious with each other. He also suggests finding some humor. This week, he said, he saw a Facebook post from a family having a slow morning. They put “academy” after their address and said the academy was on a two-hour delay.

“I was like, ‘Yes, I love it,’” Kaiser said. “We just have to take it easy, get some sun and we’ll get through this time together.”

Candy Neal contributed to this story.

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