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Metro Parks Tacoma gears up for summer while adapting to COVID-19 safety & health impacts

A Metro Parks Tacoma recovery team has been reconciling business plans for the District’s myriad of programs, facilities and services with the various phases of the state’s Safe Start program.

Over the past month agency staff have evaluated every summer program and service to determine which ones the District would be able to afford to operate under current state directives and without further compounding already significant revenue losses since closures began in March.

“This summer will look dramatically different as COVID-19 redefines some of our program delivery,” said Shon Sylvia, Metro Parks Executive Director. “Additionally, we’ve been actively working to address a $13 million revenue shortfall projected through August, which we know will continue to increase through year end. Understanding this, our team adjusted and analyzed each of our operations to reset our offering of summer experiences.”

Ramping Up for Summer Reopening

Destination Opportunities: The District began cautiously and incrementally reopening its most revenue dependent operations as the state allowed, including Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, Northwest Trek Wildlife Park, Meadow Park Golf Course, and Point Defiance Marina. Expansion of current operations are anticipated at each of these locations in the weeks ahead through Labor Day.

Increasing Access to Parks & Amenities

Park Gates, Playgrounds, Sports Courts & Skateparks:  Are scheduled to open July 8. It’s important to note that use of playgrounds, sports courts and skate parks will be allowed only in accordance with current public health guidance. At this time, use of these amenities is restricted to children from no more than five different households at one time. Parents should bring hand sanitizer for their child’s use when participating in high touchpoint play. Parents are urged to check the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department website regularly to ensure they are aware of all recommended guidelines to help reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Point Defiance Park: Metro Parks staff are exploring how to safely and cost-effectively reopen some of the major parking lots and roads in Point Defiance Park later next month. Discussions are underway but no dates have been set.

Hygiene Stations/Restrooms: Last week, a fleet of 17 temporary hygiene stations were placed in high use areas throughout the park system as emergency relief for visitors. These temporary units will serve as a stop-gap until additional staff can be recalled from furlough when summer programs begin and park gates and amenities reopen in early July. At that time, a limited number of restrooms will be opened and the portable units will be removed. Although staffing levels will increase slightly in the weeks ahead, the District will operate this summer with only about one-third of its normal workforce.

Portable toilets are located at:

Dash Point Pier
Franklin Park
Kandle Park
Manitou Park
Point Defiance Boat Launch
Point Defiance Dune Peninsula
Point Defiance near trailhead (at end of Zoo parking lot B)
Ruston Way Les Davis Pier
Ruston Way Old Town Dock
Ruston Way Waterwalk
STAR Center
Stewart Heights Park
Swan Creek Gathering Area
Titlow Park – near sprayground
Verlo Park
Wapato Park – near 72nd street
Wright Park – near restroom building

Picnic Shelters: All are first-come first-served until July 31 with no electricity or water available. Reservations are being accepted for dates from August 1 to September 30. Existing reservations within those dates will be honored.

Camps: The District recently announced a variety of fun camps that will be offered this summer throughout the community. Camp offerings cover a wide spectrum of interests, including sports, arts, STEM, babysitting, martial arts, as well as camps based at Fort Nisqually and Tacoma Nature Center. Camp operations have been modified significantly in accordance with state directives and public health guidance.

“Camp experiences are particularly beneficial for kids to grow and develop this summer,” said Park Board President Tim Reid. “We’re proud of our staff for stepping forward to play an active role in a collaborative effort that provided camps for the children of emergency responders this spring. These summer offerings allow us to provide safe and fun opportunities for kids in our community.”

Summer Meals: Continued access to meals is important for youth development in our community. Last summer, Metro Parks served over 9,000 meals to Tacoma children ages 18 and under as part of its Summer Playground program. This year, the program will launch under a Grab & Go model. This service may be expanded to include a playground component; however that will be dependent on Pierce County entering Phase 3 and access to service providers with COVID-19 safety training and experience. Metro Parks would like to thank Safeway Nourishing Neighbors for their support of this program. Learn more at metroparkstacoma.org/summer-meals.

Outdoor Fitness: With uncertainties about how programming restrictions might impact facilities such as our community centers, the District is developing a variety of outdoor fitness and wellness activities in parks where social distancing can be easily maintained in an open-air setting.

Continuing Closures and Service Reductions this Summer

After careful consideration of the safety and financial aspects of each program and service, the District was forced to make some difficult decisions for summer operations to responsibly operate within the anticipated budget shortfall.

Outdoor Pools: Kandle & Stewart Heights Pools will not open this year. Swimming is a subsidized operating expense. Capacity limits and a late start in these operations would significantly add to current budget shortfalls.

Community Centers: All community centers will remain closed for the summer. We are exploring possibilities for opening in the fall. Operations are dependent on directives within future phases of the state’s reopening. At this time, capacity limits would not enable the centers to function at levels that can offset operating expenses.

Spraygrounds: Will remain closed this year. Typically, these seasonal assets are brought online for weekend only service beginning in May. Every spring, staff install features that have to be removed at the end of summer season. They use weekdays in May for system testing and repairs prior to full-time operations in June. The District does not have adequate staffing to initiate or sustain sprayground operations this year.

Park lawn: Will not be groomed to normal levels this summer. Parks will operate with only one-third of their normal crews this summer, so mowing will happen less frequently. The District will also reduce irrigation by approximately 49 million gallons both as a cost-saving measure and to reduce the need for mowing.

Park operations, facility openings/closures and program offerings are subject to change in accordance with Pierce County’s phased reopening status. Current updates about all Metro Parks facilities and programs are available on the District’s website.

Approximately 47 percent of Metro Parks’ annual operating funds are derived from sources such as memberships, registration and admission fees, donations and corporate partnerships. Facility closures, along with program and event cancellations, have already created a projected $13 million gap through August. That gap will continue to increase until facilities are able to operate at or near normal capacity without fear of extending the life of the pandemic.

To help address the projected shortfall, Metro Parks drastically scaled back its operations to essential services only and reduced its workforce by nearly 80 percent.

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