Manager of Recreation and Facilities Sky McKeown gave an update on the parks and recreation facilities around town at the latest city council meeting.

Parks, trails, the dog park, and skate park are open, though playgrounds remain closed.

“Recreation and Parks across the Province are working together with guidance and direction from the Provincial Health Officer (Dr. Bonnie Henry) to establish and implement the necessary protocols for a safe return to social and physical recreational activities,” said McKeown. “Recreation and access to parks is key.”

The aquatic centre, the arena, the civic centre, and the sports box are still closed.

On May 1, the British Columbia Parks and Rec Association were asked by the Minister of Tourism, Arts, and Culture to formulate a restart plan. On May 6, Premier John Horgan acknowledged their work in an address.

In Merritt, the restart plan has begun: the Recreation Coordinator has been brought back full-time, while McKeown will be looking to bring back his Facilities Programmer on a limited schedule next week.

McKeown said that both of the staff members are “key positions regarding the startup.”

“They will be assisting in gathering information from Merritt’s organized sporting associations in the City. In regards to what they have created, and are proposing for safety measures for their members.”

McKeown said not to expect a hard date of when all facilities will be open, and instead to expect a slow return to normal.

“The impact of what is happening now, it will be felt long after this is over. We will see a lot of change in behaviour and habits. I guess the biggest thing with this is, there’s so many things that we have to plan out. Our staff members, facility users, and program participants remain our priority.”

Some changes that may be happening at the aquatic centre, for example, include limited shower space, limited lanes, and possible one-way foot traffic. In exercise rooms, workout equipment may be limited, while sanitization tools will be readily available.

“There’s a ton of stuff to go over,” said McKeown, who also mentioned the financial implications of what will be the necessary changes.

Most activities that could be opened up first are outdoor activities, like tennis or pickleball: though McKeown sees challenges with managing numbers.

“If these associations can manage their group, and keep their spacing…manage it themselves, it sounds good in theory, but with the sports box for example, if we were to open it up to one user group, the optics of that, of other user groups not having it open for drop-in.”

While everything is shut down, the parks and rec department has taken the initiative to get a number of improvement projects done throughout the facilities that usually would have been done in September: projects that would have shut them down initially, without the pandemic.

McKeown added that as facilities do start to reopen, the news will be posted on both the City of Merritt’s website and social media channels.

The City of Merritt has also released a new guide as to what is open and what is still closed during the pandemic, as well as tips and activities to keep active, which can now be found on the City’s website.

The 15-page guide outlines ideas around Merritt to keep both the brain and body stimulated.

“(It looks) at some resources for businesses around recreation, as well as some activities that residents can do, keeping of course physical isolation,” said Will George, Manager of Economic Development and Tourism. “A mix between at home activities and outdoors.”