As more Red Deerians begin to use popular trails, such as this one at Bower Ponds, there are growing concerns about the need for social distancing. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).

Warmer weather makes social distancing an outdoor necessity, says Red Deer emergency director

Sylvan Lake closes playgrounds and washrooms to discourage visitors

Warmer weather is creating a potential pandemic problem, because it’s bringing out the crowds.

With so many more hikers and cyclists congregating in parks and along trails this week, discussions are underway about how to encourage social distancing outdoors.

Red Deer’s emergency operations centre director, Karen Mann, said she’s keeping an eye on popular spots, such as Bower Ponds, to see whether additional measures are needed to keep people two metres apart.

Some municipalities, including Calgary, are closing traffic lanes to allow walkers and cyclists to spread out and social distance while passing each other.

Mann said Red Deer doesn’t have as much urban congestion, so she doubts this will be needed here.

But she’s considering other measures — such as directing one-way pedestrian traffic around circular pathways, such as at Bower Ponds, McKenzie Trails or the Michael O’Brien wetland.

“We are continuing to monitor them, and we could implement additional measures” if the trails become overly congested as the temperature climbs, she added.

The City of Red Deer recently closed outdoor recreational facilities until June 30 — including skateboard parks, spray parks, Discovery Canyon, River Bend Golf Course and the outdoor pool at the Recreation Centre.

Permits for the local farmer’s and public markets will also not be issued until after the end of June, and outdoor playgrounds across the city remain closed.

Mann knows this will be tough on many families, but she said the city needs to follow public safety directions set by the provincial medical officer of health.

If Dr. Deena Hinshaw determines virus containment measures are working, and the closures can be lifted earlier, then the city will reopen facilities before June 30 — likely with capacity limitations that will be set by the province, said Mann.

But if Hinshaw deems the closures need to be extended, then the city will have to reevaluate and keep them shut into July, she said.

Mann encourages Red Deerians to follow good trail “etiquette” and stay to the right of paths, except to pass — and to stay two metres apart while doing so.

“As a courtesy, share the trails with other pedestrians and cyclists.”

The Town of Sylvan Lake is asking would-be visitors and recreational property owners to stay home, and visit later.

“We have a large seasonal population that returns to their cottages, lake homes, or secondary residences, once the snow melts, and we are reinforcing (Hinshaw’s) message… to please stay in your primary residence while we all try to mitigate the COVID-19 situation,” said Jared Waldo, the town’s culture and tourism supervisor.

Preventative measures were taken to discourage non-residents from flooding the waterfront park. These include the closure of all public washrooms, playgrounds, sports parks and picnic shelters.

Sporting activities are also not permitted, as green spaces and trails are for individual use only.

The town states social distancing will be enforced and all events and gatherings are also cancelled until further notice.

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