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Parks use sees ‘dramatic’ increase in Fairfield, other cities during pandemic

The city of Fairfield has seen an increase in use of its parks since the start of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, pandemic. Picture is Princeton graduate Jalen Turner throwing a pass to graduate Elijah Eberhardt in April at Harbin Park in Fairfield preparing for college athletics. Eberhardt is set to play football at Bowling Green State University and Turner is set to run track for a college in Georgia. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF
The city of Fairfield has seen an increase in use of its parks since the start of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, pandemic. Picture is Princeton graduate Jalen Turner throwing a pass to graduate Elijah Eberhardt in April at Harbin Park in Fairfield preparing for college athletics. Eberhardt is set to play football at Bowling Green State University and Turner is set to run track for a college in Georgia. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

A vibrant parks system has been a refuge for many seeking to get out of the house during the coronavirus pandemic.

Large social gatherings and indoor events are still unadvisable by the DeWine Administration, so park visits, which are encouraged by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, are significantly up, according to Google Analytics mobility reports.

Park programming has been highly limited since the onset of the coronavirus. Though the state has either lifted or eased gathering restrictions, picnic shelters and playgrounds are seeing more use, said Fairfield Parks and Recreation Director Tiphanie Howard.

“We’re in the business of creating social gatherings, that’s one of our tenets that we operating on, so that part of our operations is obviously not going right now,” she said.

ExploreOhio’s new mask mandate: What are the rules?

The city has been asked by the Butler County health department to not have any events while the county was at a Level 3 health emergency. DeWine announced on Thursday Butler County has dropped to a Level 2, but the county is “still hovering very close” to Level 3.

Fairfield has postponed its weekly concert series to begin on Aug. 6. If the county returns to a Level 3 prior to Aug. 6, the series will be postponed by two weeks.

“We’re in the business of creating social gatherings ... so that part of our operations is obviously not going right now.”

- Tiphanie Howard, Fairfield Parks and Recreation Director

During the coronavirus pandemic, Howard said the parks have seen more usage. The trash cans at the parks have needed emptying at twice the rate, Howard said. They are also visibly busier, she said.

Miami student Nick Farrell tees off as he plays disc golf back in April at Harbin Park in Fairfield. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF
Miami student Nick Farrell tees off as he plays disc golf back in April at Harbin Park in Fairfield. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

“We’ve seen a dramatic increase in our park usage this year basically because there’s really nothing else to do,” Howard said. “Things are slowly opening up now, but I think people are still a little hesitant to go inside to get their entertainment value and recreation value but are still willing to stay outside and feel a little safer doing so. Obviously parks are the answer to that.”

Ohio as a whole has seen a 173 percent increase in its park usage from June 7 to July 19, according to a July 19 Google Analytics mobility report. All other activity has seen either small increases or decreases.

The city has slowly started incorporating programming at its Community Arts Center (CAC), but sizes are limited to nine at a time. They also incorporated a new yoga class in conjunction with the weekly Fairfield Farmer’s Market at Village Green Park.

Like other communities and recreation businesses, programming has been put online. Officials started a Virtual CAC providing community members opportunities to enrich a resident’s quality of life while they’re staying at home.

There were a few capital projects Fairfield’s parks system, including improvements at Harbin Park, the city’s largest park. During the COVID-19 pandemic, local budgets have been cut anticipating lower tax revenues. Fairfield cut its approved $75.6 million operating budget by 3.8 percent, or $2.86 million, last month. The city also cut its five-year capital improvement program budget by 8.92 percent, or $1.35 million.

The city has made a commitment to maintain and improve its parks. In addition to the Harbin Park improvements, Fairfield has pushed to develop and expand Marsh Park.

Two people take a break in April while at Huffman Park in Fairfield. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF
Two people take a break in April while at Huffman Park in Fairfield. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

A 2017 study showed that parks have nationally contributed directly and indirectly $166.4 billion worth of economic activity. Howard said the best example locally is in the city of Hamilton with Marcum Park, which was a $4 million private investment by the Marcum family.

The park development resulted in around $15 million worth of business development in downtown Hamilton, said city spokesman Brandon Saurber. WIthout that park, the 102 market-rate apartments at ArtSpace Hamilton Lofts, and the retail space in the building, would not have happened, he said.

“That park has been tremendous for us, and has proven to be an asset during the coronavirus pandemic,” Saurber said.

CUTS IN FAIRFIELD PARKS

The city of Fairfield parks department had the most cut from its operating and capital budgets for 2020. Here are some of operating budget cuts:

Replacement of mowers and equipment: $18,000

South Trace golf course signage: $50,000

South Trace concession renovations: $75,000

Harbin Park renovations: $2 million: ($1.45 million in city funding)

Phase 1 of the Harbin Park loop trail: $400,000 ($200,000 in city funding)

Source: city of Fairfield