Photo: Alan Palm and his son Sawyer in the newly reopened Grove Street Playground.
On a warm Tuesday with willowy clouds overhead, Alan Palm and his son, Sawyer, are on the newly installed walkway that meanders around the Grove Street Playground; Palm père on his skateboard while Palm fils is riding his balance bike.
For the first time since mid-March, Grove Street is back open to the public and the Palms are taking advantage of the return to “normal” in the park.
“I’m very happy that the park is open,” said Palm. “I think we have to find ways to be able to maintain our health and safety.”
What attracts Palms to Grove is the expansive spaces a park provides, “where it’s possible for people to be social distance apart as opposed to just crowding onto the sidewalk. People need to take advantage of that.”
In the most visible examples of a return to normalcy since the sudden closure of many activities due to the COVID-19 pandemic in mid-March, Belmont is reopening several public spaces effective Tuesday, June 2.
The Belmont Select Board voted unanimously at its Monday, June 1 remote meeting to immediately begin a restart of the town’s public parks and athletic fields limited to passive activities such as walking and running, according to Jon Marshall, the assistant town administrator and Recreation Department director. Arrangements are being made with the School Department to allow use of the track around Harris Field.
In addition, the padlocks will be taken off the town’s tennis courts to permit singles action as well as doubles as long as the pairs are from the same household.
“First off, I want to thank all the residents for their patience. I know it hasn’t been an easy time with all the parks being closed,” said Jon Marshall, the assistant town administrator and Recreation Department director who coordinated the openings with other town departments.
The Department of Public Works is working to create and place signs with new rules and what activities are allowed at each site.
While the parks and fields are now open, residents will still be under state and town orders on minimizing human contact.
“We’re still looking at public safety as our main concern and social distancing and face masks are critical at this time,” said Marshall who said people should not congregate at these locations.
Board Chair Roy Epstein said residents should follow the guidelines of putting on a mask when you’re with six feet of a person not in your household, “if you’re off by yourself or can maintain six feet when they’re outdoor, a mask is a good idea but it’s not obligatory.”
But many activities will remain shuttered for the time being. Remaining off limits will be basketball courts due to likely contact between players. The town will not be issuing athletic permits for organized “pick-up” games such as soccer. Playground equipment aimed at young children will remain closed due to the difficulty in sanitizing the apparatus.
Marshall told the board that the Recreation Commission will discuss at its next meeting on June 10 on how and when to open the courts and fields as most of these activities will be allowed under a Phase II Commonwealth’s Re-Opening Plan from Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration.
Marshall told the Board his department could reimpose bans if residents do not abide by state and town regulations.
“We want to keep in mind that there’s still a pandemic going on … so we need to be very prudent in terms of the decisions that are made,” said Marshall.