Changing Face of Recreation; Adapting to Pandemic Demands

by Kelly Tolbert, Recreation Coordinator, City of Prescott • Photos by Rick Hormann

As we prepare to greet our fall months, there is much to reflect upon as we continue to be adaptable to the uncertain future. 

Living during a pandemic has changed almost every aspect of our daily lives. Planning for anything is nearly impossible with guidelines pertaining to group sizes, travel, mask mandates, closures, and availability of products subject to change at essentially a moment’s notice. 

For now, indoor sports leagues are taking a hiatus.

Fall usually welcomes City Adult Volleyball leagues, while the typical softball season wraps up tournaments on the weekends. Plans for winter basketball leagues and gym play are all on hold or canceled. 

There is a noticeable shift to outdoor recreation opportunities that has left bicycle suppliers and nonmotorized water sports suppliers with challenges keeping product in stock. The public tennis courts next to Ken Lindley Field and Park are experiencing record use along with our three City lakes, multiuse hiking trails and campgrounds are filled each week.

Recognizing a need to keep volunteers and program participants engaged, the City’s adult special needs program (SNAP-Special Needs Activity Program) created a way to adapt because the core aspects of the program include a well-attended dance, craft night and BINGO activity night each month. The program coordinator, Karlyne Crewse, along with her volunteers and assistants assembled several drive-thru parking-lot events, distributing themed giveaway bags for participants and their caregivers to drive up, wave from afar, and feel some sense of normalcy. 

Witnessing individuals and families getting acquainted with nature (some for the first time) has been an enlightening process for recreation professionals. However, properly educating people on how to be a responsible land user is an ongoing process.

Recently, the Arizona Office of Tourism formed a partnership with Leave No Trace, a Center for Outdoor Ethics (a Colorado-based nonprofit) becoming just the second state to have done so. This means several exciting things, and for a recreation participant it likely will mean more visual messaging at your favorite parks, trails and other recreation areas on how to leave things better than you found them. The messaging may seem self-explanatory, but to many visitors it is not. 

Until the recent past, it has been the goal of Parks and Recreation professionals to extend services to as many people as possible. Paring back activities and the number of participants is pretty foreign and has required fluidity while working to offer experiences that enrich individuals’ lives. The immediate effects of this reduction of what could be deemed “before COVID” activities — for example any of the signature special events held within the City annually — is to correlate the notable increased visits to parks, trails and playgrounds. 

Historically, children have been a primary beneficiary of Park and Recreation-based offerings with familiar areas to go when children are out of school. School districts are now faced with the same conundrum, finding adequate outdoor classroom space to resume a somewhat customary academic year. 

Thankfully, Prescott is many things, with perhaps the most notable being the wonderful sense of community it exhibits, especially in times of distress. Existing partnerships have flourished among the pandemic guidelines; in fact they continue to thrive more every day as our need continues to pivot. Already in partnership via an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA), Prescott Unified School District responded to an offer to get neighboring schools back to nature by using the Prescott Community Nature Center for outdoor classrooms and state-mandated distance learning.

Local nonprofit G.E.M. Environmental has been using the same property to fulfill its mission of creating “an avenue for the advancement of students in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) programs into industry careers by providing unique educational opportunities for personal growth” (www.gemenvironmental.org). 

It felt natural for them to become involved with site improvements, continuing to use the open space for outdoor classrooms and conducting community improvement projects within our parks. The City of Prescott is very thankful for their generosity. Arizona Serve, a program facilitated through Prescott College, has effectively staffed the Community Nature Center with a full-time AmeriCorps staff person to assist with all of the new demands placed on the property. The hope is this collaboration will continue well into the future.

While there have been many important contributors to the success of these required adaptations, the significance of looking back over the past year is seeing how resilient humans are when the spirit of a community joins forces.

Times may not allow for what has been considered traditional family events, like the Fourth of July celebrations so unique to Prescott, but we live in a wonderful community that unites when times are difficult. We are Prescott Strong. For more information please visit www.prescott-az.gov