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Summer In Syracuse Parks Is Still Alive, Despite COVID-19 Pandemic

Katie Zilcosky

COVID-19 has changed, sometimes cancelled, some of kids favorite summer activities in Syracuse.The city’s Parks and Recreation Department had to adapt  with new health precautions in place and fiscal strain due to the pandemic. Now, they’re trying to keep some summer activities going in new ways.

Syracuse’s mobile rec program is the closest thing to a summer camp that the city is offering during pandemic. It takes place twice a day, four times a week in different parks throughout the city. The Park’s Department’s Chris Abbott is filling bags with chalk, craft ideas, crayons and other take home activities.

Abbott says the number of people who take part in the program each week fluctuates, but there is a small group of kids who come to at least one a week. It’s far from a normal summer for the parks department.

“Normally we’d be going from morning to night with in person programming," said Abbott. "So we’re tryin to take this approach to at least stay in contact with families in the cities. To let families know that we’re still here and we’re trying to provide some kind of activity ideas for the summer until we can all get back together.”

Health and safety aren’t the only things challenging the parks department. They’ve also felt the financial impacts of the pandemic. They furloughed employees, like most city departments, and struggled to find funds to open pools. They were able to open two of the city’s eight, but Mayor Ben Walsh put a call out to the city..asking for help to open two more. 

They ended up reaching their fundraising goal of $100,000 within 6 days

“Oh I was flabbergasted,” said Syracuse Parks Conservancy President Chris Wiles. The Parks Conservancy hosted the fundraiser for the pools.

“The commissioner called me up and said, ‘Well the mayor wants to do this.’ And I said, ‘You think we can raise $100,000?’ ‘Well we’re going to try it.’ I said, ‘Fine, I’m willing to try anything.’”

Wiles said the fundraiser gave people the opportunity to share stories of what the parks meant to them. 

“There was one lady...she gave ten dollars. She said ‘I grew up with these parks. I think they’re very important, and the swimming pools and so forth.’ And she said ‘Here take the ten dollars and do with it what you can,’" said Wiles. "So people could connect with the parks, and at the same time, they could connect with the conservancy.”

The Parks Conservancy had to put a number of projects and events on hold, including a basketball game and treatment of invasive species. Wiles says old and new projects will resume eventually, but it’s hard to move forward when the future with COVID-19 is still uncertain. But in the meantime, the parks are open for summer, just with some new rules.