Minneapolis limiting use of park amenities during COVID-19 pandemic

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Social distancing tennis.

It’s part of the new recreation normal for Bob Nechal and Scott Carlson.

"We talk, we do our drills, and it enables us to maintain our skills,” said Nechal. "My hitting and practice partner, Scott, and I practice social distancing all the time. He never comes much closer than this."

Nechal, who’s 75, and Carlson, 67, said they are frustrated the nets are coming down May 1 because of social distancing concerns.

"I'm disappointed that they would close tennis courts,” Nechal said. “I understand basketball. That's just impossible, I used to be a basketball player; you're going to be close."

Despite signs which displayed messages like “keep the rims on” at basketball courts, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board has ordered basketball court rims blocked or removed.

Parks officials said way too many visitors aren’t practicing social distancing.

Park Board Superintendent Al Bangoura issued a statement Friday, saying in part, “We have put a lot of effort into educating and encouraging social distancing. But we continue to see park visitors gathering during this national health crisis.” 

"I too, have witnessed folks at the basketball courts not practicing social distancing,” said Matthew Perkins, of Minneapolis, who brought his family to Lake Hiawatha Park Friday afternoon. “People have got to be safe. And if those two things can’t coincide, then unfortunately measures have to be taken.”

But all of this is a challenge for players who obey the rules, like 14-year-old Briton Wurm.

“It’s annoying,” he declared. “More and more things are closing, and even though it seems like everything is getting a bit better, actually.” 

The closures include athletic fields, skate parks and playgrounds, which are not sanitized.

Signs outside the Lake Hiawatha playground say “use at your own risk.”

A 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS crew spotted a few parents, washing their kids' hands after playing on one of the playgrounds.

But not everyone.

"We've been avoiding the playgrounds, just to be safe,” said Elizabeth Perkins.

She and her husband, Matthew, on an outing with their 4-year-old son Fitzwilliam, are sorry some park facilities are off-limits.

The Park Board said the closures will be a gradual process, that it will take some time to add new warning signs and takedown nets.

There are 180 parks within Minneapolis city limits, with 26 million visits a year, according to a city spokesperson.

The aim will be for the new restrictions to be in place by May 1. 

So, the Perkins family are trying some alternatives.

"I think Minnesotans are pretty resilient,” Elizabeth Perkins said. “We get outside, we ride our bikes. We take walks and rollerblade."