Summer is right around the corner, and your Milwaukee County Parks will be there to greet the season with open arms. Well, mostly open arms. Late last week, the parks department published a brief Spring COVID Update, detailing what’s open, what’s closed, and what’s still up in the air. “This information may change frequently,” Milwaukee County Parks says, “so please also check our Knowledge Bank for the latest updates.”
Here’s where things stand for now:
The CDC recently updated their guidance on using outdoor equipment, based on the low risks of catching COVID-19 from surfaces. This means that playgrounds, outdoor gyms and other outdoor equipment will be open as usual this summer – social distancing and frequent hand washing are still advised, of course.
Picnic areas and picnic shelters will be available to rent too, and reservations are now being accepted. The majority of park restrooms will also be open this summer, but no decisions have been made yet on whether bubblers will be switched on.
Outdoor Sports & Activities
All 14 golf courses are now open for the season. Capacity limits are still in place in clubhouses and masks are required inside clubhouses. Disc golf courses, which are being rested to allow for turf to regrow, will reopen on May 1.
Non-contact sports are permitted, so tennis courts, basketball courts, and futsal courts will be open. Baseball, softball and volleyball courts are available to rent for practices, or for leagues and tournaments with approved safety plans. Milwaukee County Parks, however, will not be offering the spring/summer softball league 2021 season. We are hoping that we will be able to have fall sports leagues starting in August. Permits for contact sports, such as rugby or football, are not currently being issued.
Current health guidelines cap outdoor activities at 1000 people – which means most group volunteering, such as weed-outs can also go ahead. We’re also seeking volunteers for our micro-volunteering program, Brew Hero, as well as volunteers for community science initiatives such as bee monitoring.
Small special events with an approved COVID-19 safety plan will be permitted over the summer. These events include 5k runs, farmers markets and outdoor weddings. Large special events that attract crowds of over 1,000 are currently not being granted permits.
Large-scale gatherings like the Jul 3 Fireworks Show and the Air & Water Show are still being explored, but smaller firework displays on July 4 can be permitted with approved safety plans.
Forked Aster hiking trails and the Oak Leaf Trail are open as usual. Two long-term detours are currently in place on the Oak Leaf Trail, however. One on the Root River Line on the Underwood Creek Parkway near Hansen Golf Course to accommodate work on the interstate, and the second is on the Zip Line due to the sink hole – work on that repair is expected to start this year.
In addition to the trails, Active Streets will return to Estabrook Park Parkway this summer.
The Domes, Boerner & Wehr
The Mitchell Park Domes will continue to operate with its current hours throughout summer – so they’ll remain closed on Mondays & Tuesdays, and open 9am-5pm Wed-Fri and 9am-4pm on weekends. Capacity is still limited and advance reservations are required.
Boerner Botanical Gardens will open seven days a week, with limited capacity, starting on May 1. Advance reservations are required and public access to the visitor center will be limited, but small rentals and weddings will be allowed.
At Wehr Nature Center, the nature trails and outdoor amenities including the accessible pier are open. Access to the visitor center is limited to the restrooms and front desk.
Community & Sports Centers & Indoor Amenities
Most indoor facilities remain closed to the public or have limited access. Kozy Community Center and Milwaukee County Sports Complex are currently being used as vaccination sites for Milwaukee County. The gyms at both Kozy and King Centers are open for controlled access. The Milwaukee County Sports Complex and Wilson Ice Arena remain closed to the public.
Rentals for indoor spaces, including park pavilions, will be available with limited capacities. South Shore Pavilion, Gordon Park Pavilion and Greenfield park pavilion are currently available, with more venues planned to open for rentals starting on June 1, and all indoor pavilions targeted to open by November 1.
Pools, Beaches & Splash Pads
Several outdoor pools and water parks are planned to open this summer – but the number of pools we open will be dependent on how many lifeguards we’re able to hire. The opening plans for wading pools and splash pads will likely be similar to 2020 – with partial openings equitably distributed throughout the county. Please check our website or Parks explorer app for updates.
Lifeguard recruitment will also impact our ability to provide lifeguards for Bradford Beach this year. McKinley Beach will be closed for swimming for this summer due to continued safety risks. High lake levels have increased the chances for dangerous rip tides at McKinley Beach, so a safety study will take place there over the summer.
Both indoor pools, at Noyes & Pulaksi, will remain closed to the public until the fall at the earliest.
Boat launches at McKinley Marina, Riverfront Launch Site and Bender Park will open on May 1. The launch ramps at South Shore Park are not yet in place due to the high lake levels. McKinley Marina boat slips will open as usual on May 1
South Shore Terrace beer garden and Whitnall Beer Garden are now open for the season, with the Vine Humboldt and the Traveling Beer Gardens following in May. The same COVID-19 precautions introduced in 2020 are still in place, which include more distance between tables, regular cleaning on shared tables and masks are required while in line.
Overall, summer activities in the parks in 2021 will likely be dependent on the continued success of the vaccine rollout, as well as our ability to hire seasonal staff.
Parks operations are also impacted by the ongoing funding shortage for parks. Since 2017, our operating budget has been reduced by $5m, continuing a decades-long pattern of required annual budget reductions for Parks, and every budget cut impacts our ability to provide the services that we know you, our community, believes are essential to the quality of life in Milwaukee County.
Parks receives little-to-no funding from the State because it is a non-mandated service, and unless something changes at the state level, then by 2027 there will be no local tax funding available for local priorities– which means more budget reductions to Parks over the next six years are likely.
Visit our site at www.loveyourparksmke.com for more details on the budget crisis and how you can help. For details of Capital Projects, which will be ongoing throughout the year, visit our Capital Projects tracker map at https://county.milwaukee.gov/EN/Parks/What-We-Do/Planning–Development
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