Thoughts of June are often followed by getting kids ready for summer fun.
While still possible in the COVID-19 pandemic, summer recreation is looking a little different for families this year.
For instance, many summer camps are canceled, however Carver County Parks and Recreation is offering grab-and-go craft bags and Chaska Parks and Recreation is offering campout kits.
“We are doing absolutely zero programs where social distancing cannot be maintained by instructors and participants at all times,” said Micah Ostergard, recreation and volunteer specialist with county parks.
Still-on programs include some sports and weekend non-motor boating rentals.
“None of the big programs are happening for the summer,” Ostergard said.
Meanwhile, some Eastern Carver County Schools Community Education classes are still planned.
The smaller-scale activities and classes come with their own virus package: Social distancing, more cleaning, and less sharing, said Jackie Johnston, Community Education director.
If classes can’t meet those guidelines?
“We are canceling them,” Johnston said.
As of last week, nearly 80 children’s community education programs were canceled. However, the district still plans to operate over 200 classes.
“Basically, you have to keep the kids in their contained group,” she said of childcare and enrichment programs. “The kids are really with those same nine kids all day.”
Luckily, the district’s classes have always staggered throughout the summer. First comes tennis, then comes archery — two relatively easy activities to monitor safely. Leaders track who children and adults are in contact with: How close were they? Were they wearing a mask?
Archery is mostly an individual activity. In tennis, only two players can be on the same side in doubles.
Erin Link, Chaska Parks recreation program manager, said the city is limiting participants, but as of last week, there’s plenty of sign-up room.
“We have to stick with that less-than-10 (rule),” Link said.
When asked about the decision to keep some programs running, Johnston said it was “definitely not a financial incentive.”
Class ratios are historically one instructor per 16 students. That’s now one to nine.
A pod of 10 people or less isn’t feasible for all classes, Johnston said, and can be more expensive to run when less people sign up. That prompts cancellations, too.
Johnston said, with fingers crossed, the team raised rates by a dollar across the board.
“Maybe we’ll break even, I’m hoping,” she said.
Ostergard said registration is “certainly down right now” from previous years. He attributes this to uncertainty around the virus as people wait to see how the summer will unfold. Before canceling summer camps, though, Ostergard said registration was picking up.
“Recreation programs in particular aim to recover their costs through program fees,” he said.
Though cancellations meant lost revenue for the county, not paying seasonal staff balanced it out, he said.
“We are still making our typical revenue from our campground services, they were just delayed by a few weeks,” Ostergard said.
Johnston said if families lost jobs due to the virus, affording summer childcare or programs isn’t an option for some. And the numbers show it.
“I would say absolutely our numbers are lower, for childcare especially,” she said.
Chanhassen has moved its summer programs online, offering virtual exercise, tours, concerts and other activities for children.
In Chaska, though some planning is still in the works, summer will likely come with an individual “take it outside” program, parks scavenger hunt, and outdoor recreation programs. The outdoor gatherings, in partnership with the county, include stand-up paddleboarding and kayaking.
Ostergard said they’re minimizing virus risk by staggering when people show up to rent equipment and sanitizing shared items like paddles. Programming is expected to start mid-June on a drop-in basis.
“We’re kind of calling it our enhanced rental program,” Ostergard said.
In the past, rentals were handled by teenagers with little instruction to paddleboard renters. This year, the county is recruiting more experienced instructors to give a five-minute how-to before families paddle off.
Kits are also a popular substitute for classic summer get-togethers like fishing and camping. Fifty “fishing with friends” kits with poles and lures have already been sold, Link said, and campout kits are being bought too. The campground remains open.
And there’s more in the works.
“We are going to, I think, begin having some outdoor fitness opportunities,” Link said.
They’ll likely be open to community center members, though — not the general public.
Ostergard said at Baylor Regional Park and Lake Minnewashta Regional Park, story walks are taking place. Pages of childrens’ books are printed on signs, located every 50 feet or so down the trail. Stories are rotated every week, he said.
Though there’s a learning curve for summer programming — like figuring out how to measure a group size if they’re spread out on a lake — organizers said with safe planning, this summer can still go partially as-planned.
“We know that kids have been in their homes for three months,” Johnston said.
“Kids need to be outside. They need to be doing things ... If we can keep them safe and meet their needs for getting outside and getting exercise? That’s our goal.”