Outdoor enthusiasts find refuge in parks
A series of stories highlighting reopening efforts post-pandemic continues today with a look at some outdoor activities.
LISBON — Karl Mattern has seen with his own eyes how state parks have become a refuge for the public during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mattern, a parks and watercraft manager for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, is in charge of Beaver Creek State Park and Guilford Lake State Park. He said there is no question the parks are much more crowded than other years.
“It’s been crazy. We’ve seen more people fishing, more people picnicking and more campers,” he said.
When Gov. Mike DeWine issued his shutdown and stay-at-home orders in mid March to prevent the spread of the virus, he allowed state parks to remain open, except for camping, provided the public followed social distancing protocols. The camping ban — except for group camping — was lifted by Memorial Day.
During this period, people flocked to Beaver Creek State Park to enjoy the many hiking trails, fish, walk the road loops and to picnic. While some of that has slowed down since the gradual reopening of Ohio, the uptick in usage continues.
“People are eager to get out … and parks are a great way to do that,” Mattern said.
The campground at Guilford Lake is as busy as ever, but reservations are required. The campground commissary is only selling firewood and ice at this time.
The beach is open, but you cannot rent paddle boats or kayaks due to lack of staffing. More staffing is expected to be in place by July 1, which will allow the shower/restrooms at the beach to reopen.
The BCSP campground is closed because the strip-mined area around it has been logged in preparation for the area being reclaimed. COVID-19 resulted in work on the project being halted for two months, and the delay pushed back completion to 2021, which means the campground will remain closed until then.
Mattern said only the main restroom at BCSP is open, while the ones in picnic areas remain closed, again due to lack of staffing needed to keep them cleaned in compliance with coronavirus protocol.
BCSP usually hosts naturalist program during the summer, but there are none scheduled, again because of health concerns with large public gatherings.
The same goes for the volunteer-operated Pioneer Village and Beaver Wildlife Education Center located at BCSP, both of which are closed. Mattern said the wildlife center has submitted a plan that would allow it to resume hosting some events, if approved by the state health department.
— Tom Giambroni
SALEM — When COVID-19 stopped most park programming in its tracks, Salem Parks and Recreation got creative.
Enter the sidewalk chalk scavenger hunt and a garden of painted rocks — both activities aimed at safely engaging families.
Recreation Supervisor Amber Smith has been posting sidewalk drawings on the department’s Facebook page, inviting families to walk through Centennial and Waterworth Memorial parks to find the images while practicing social distancing with others.
In April, city residents were invited to paint a design on a rock and plant it in the new rock garden at the west entrance to the nature trail at Waterworth Memorial Park. The residents came through, adding lots of color to the spot.
Earlier this year, Smith was making plans for the annual Easter Egg Hunt and Parks Director Shane Franks was showing off the new movie equipment to show movies this summer at the band shell.
Plans at the park also included concerts, ball games, Go Wild in the Park programs and big events like the city fireworks and the Kiwanis antique and crafts show.
COVID-19 changed all that, but through it all, the parks stayed open, continuing to serve residents as best as possible while following health department and governor guidelines. Playgrounds, ball fields and basketball courts were off limits, restrooms were closed and the pool didn’t open.
ll can’t be rented for large parties, the pool is closed, there are no concerts and no big events set at this time. Franks said at some point, he hopes he can show a movie.
“The challenge is trying to provide much needed outdoor recreational opportunities for a community that needs and wants to get back outside, after basically being told to stay inside for the past three and a half months, while providing a safe and healthy environment. When people hear or read that something is allowed to open back up, whether it’s restrooms, tennis courts, playgrounds, ballfields, whatever, they often don’t realize or want to accept that it’s always under a very specific set of orders and guidelines,” Franks said in a written comment.
“The Salem Parks Department is doing our best to get these facilities open and available while still trying to follow the mandated guidelines, but it’s not always easy and definitely not simple to do. Our feeling is that at some point you have to trust your community to be responsible for themselves and respectful of others, which I think most Salem residents are,” he said.
Franks said by now, everyone should know what they need to do to “protect themselves and others from getting or spreading the coronavirus. Don’t enter or participate if you are sick or feeling ill, cough or sneeze into your sleeve or elbow, social distancing of 6 feet, wash hands often or bring and use hand sanitizer during and after participating, etc. I’m comfortable that most in our community are aware of all these and are trying hard to follow them.”
If people don’t follow guidelines, some areas could shut down again, which is not something he wants to see happen, but the department will do what’s needed or whatever is ordered by the local health department.
For Franks, the most frustrating part of dealing with COVID-19 is trying to plan for the future due to the unknown. For now, though, people are playing basketball, baseball and tennis, eating in the pavilions, climbing the new rocks at the Centennial Park playground and walking the trail.
— Mary Ann Greier
NEW WATERFORD — The big leaguers may not have started yet, but bats are swinging at the Next Level Sports Complex north of New Waterford.
Although the high school sports season was entirely lost, Next Level owner Jim Vance said the summer leagues have returned after Gov. Mike DeWine lifted the order restricting play for youth players. There are leagues through the week and travel ball tournaments on the weekend, which can mean 65 to 70 games on the six-field complex.
Vance said they have had to change some things from past summers to meet the guidelines of DeWine and work with the County Health Department. For instance, there now is signage posted through the complex reminding everyone to stay socially distant and hand sanitizer is available in the restrooms and near the concessions.
When teams sign up for the tournament or a league, Vance said the coach receives a list of rules including enforcing keeping the players spaced out in the dug outs. There’s no spitting. No sunflower seeds. No chewing gum.
Parents and others must space themselves out along the foul lines. Vance said the poles are about eight feet apart, so while a family can sit together, the family groups need to be a pole away from the next family group.
Besides getting the players mostly from Columbiana County, nearby in Pennsylvania and Youngstown back out playing ball again, Vance said this also has put a lot of umpires back to work, who all missed out on their games throughout the spring.
“So far, so good,” Vance said of hosting sports events while protecting everyone as much as possible from COVID-19, adding they have had a busy June.
– Deanne Johnson
COLUMBIANA — As the COVID-19 pandemic has put many trips and vacations on hold for the summer, county residents are depending on various local recreational activities to help keep a positive outlook. While many golf courses were briefly closed in order to implement ways to counter the virus, courses have managed to get business while maintaining the guidelines set out by Gov. Mike DeWine.
The Links at Firestone Farms Manager Delmar Campbell said that they were closed for about two weeks. But after installing many changes to address the protocol, Firestone was opened back up for golfers.
“We closed ourselves to get better prepared for COVID-19,” Campbell said. “We made many changes and plan to keep them in place for the rest of the season. But we are following the orders to a tee. If the state alleviates some stuff, we will alleviate some stuff.”
Firestone’s changes include the installation of plexiglass between each golf cart and in the clubhouse, many signs all around the course, hand sanitizer stations and two-inch pool noodles in the holes, so golfers don’t have to reach their fingers into the cup.
Although there were less customers initially, Campbell said that business has picked up now, and tee times are filling up.
“It’s been very busy,” Campbell said. “Early on, it was a lot slower. But after opening up for a bit, things definitely started to pick up.”
To alleviate the amount of people on the course at one time, the league matches, which are typically on Tuesday, were moved to Tuesday and Wednesday to spread the golfers out.
So, while some recreational activities have been put on hold, many golf courses including the Links at Firestone Farms have created solutions to stay open and provide a source of entertainment for people in the county.
— Scott Lendak
EAST LIVERPOOL — Some of the outdoor destinations like local flea markets still are finding themselves trying to bring customers back. Markets, like Rogers, attracts thousands on Fridays, while ones in Newell, W.Va. and East Liverpool’s east end are struggling to bring back vendors.
Customers are game though — though there aren’t many practicing social distancing or observing recommendations from their respective governors and health officials.
Megan Beagle, who is the owner and operator for the East End Flea Market in front of Power Fitness on Saturdays, admits that it has been a struggle especially for a relatively new operation.
This past Saturday morning, visitors were a steady flow. However, the vendors had stayed away due to the threat of inclement weather.
Jim Hedrick – who offered a variety of items include several children’s bikes — was benched next to the front of the parking lot. He said that he didn’t bring as much as usual due to the possibility of rain.
One vendor admitted that he usually stops by Rogers as he like to sell as much as possible, and they attract a super large crowd. However, in this pandemic situation, he elected to takes his chances in East Liverpool.
During a recent visit, he noted they weren’t wearing masks or social distancing.
Beagle has been doing to this East End Flea Market for the past few years in front of her business, Power Fitness.
Saturday was the fourth week of 2020’s season, and she admitted that it was really slow due to the weather. While she has been attracting between three and four vendors in her post-pandemic history, the number was more than double that last year before COVID struck Ohio.
“This is more yard sale than direct sales here in our outdoor market,” Beagle noted. For $10 per space, a vendor can set up their wares in her lot between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Saturdays.
Beagle acknowledges that her motive is not to get rich but to help her community. “It gives them something to do,” she added.
Another gentleman who had been hosting the market decided against continuing the practice. Some one approached Beagle about doing it since.
East End vendor Jim Onuska and his wife Nancy were there Saturday ready with everything from furniture to bikes. Splitting his time between Rogers and the East End market usually, he died acknowledge he recently gave Newell a spin as a vendor.
For large markets, a crowd of 5,000 is not necessarily an attraction.
He explained that can often mean people are there to kill time rather than shop. So Onuska has found the somewhat smaller markets more profitable for him. “I like to sell stuff, and the (East End) is a good place to do it” Onuska said, adding that the big market browsers often are more interested in fair food.
The East End Outdoor Flea Market is located at 1571 Pennsylvania Ave. in East Liverpool. More information can be found at its Facebook page, East End Flea Market, or by calling 330-853-9456.
Newell’s flea market is both indoor and outdoor at the old Wells Junior High School. Outdoor shopping is from 6 a.m. through dark Fridays and Saturdays, while the indoor market is also open 7 a.m. through 3 p.m. Saturdays. For information on securing a spot or shopping there, you can join their Facebook group. Newell Flea Market and Rooms of Treasures.
Rogers Flea Market and Community Auction, which is the tri-state’s largest open air flea market, is located at 45625 state Route 154 in Rogers. For more information, call 330-227-3223.
Rogers Flea Market also will have fireworks (weather permitting) at the market Friday at dark and be open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, July 4.
— Stephanie Ujhelyi