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Sometimes while talking about the solution to one problem, another arises that needs attention.
That was the case this week when the Harvey County Commission discussed a bid to restock the lakes in county parks with fish. That bid was a little high, about $1,000 more than was budgeted.
As the commission discussed options, they asked about park traffic. And they found both good and bad news.
The good news, according to Kass Miller, director of the parks department, traffic has been strong in the parks — even as the commission closed the parks to camping and went to day use only in response to COVID-19.
Park staff reported there is much more day traffic and foot traffic in the parks than normal.
Many who are coming during the day are fishing — in search of an activity and dinner that night. Miller said that social distancing is an issue, though he believes most of the clustered groups he sees are families.
“Our fishing traffic has increased immensely with the stay-at-home order,” Miller said. “We are seeing a lot of traffic, and fishing traffic, throughout the parks. ... There is more traffic for this time of year than in a typical year. It feels much busier to us.”
The commission voted to fill the entire fish order, directing staff to find $1,000 to cover the amount above the budget. The state will also be stocking smaller fish in the lakes this season. The total expense to the county for this season, with three stockings during the season, will be $19,991.
The bad news is the commission learned with that increased traffic there is a problem with restrooms. While they are not open as part of the day-use-only order, some are getting used — and some park users are relieving themselves in other locations in the park.
“People are still using park grounds to relieve themselves, alongside the bathrooms,” Miller said. “That creates another challenge.”
“We announced that the restrooms are closed, but if people are out there, do we balance having the restrooms open so we have some type of control of health issues,” asked Commissioner Chip Westfall. “Are we causing other problems by not having them?”
The commission is not willing to open the restrooms, seeing a risk for park employees who would be charged with cleaning those restrooms during an international pandemic.
“It is delicate situation,” Miller said. “We have struggled to buy chemicals for this season. Everything is back ordered — everything from disinfectant to cleaner to gloves. I think if I am going to go into these bathrooms ... they will need some additional [personal protective equipment] to clean up while this is wound up.”
The commission directed Miller to start pricing portable restroom facilities to be placed in the park for while the parks do not have restrooms with running water open. Those would be stocked with hand sanitizer for users.
“I think that will be money well spent,” said Commissioner Randy Hague.
“We have to have some type of facilities, because the season will take off and go,” Westfall said.
Park users are also not staying away from public playgrounds in the parks, which were closed when the county went to day use only.
“We have wrapped caution tape around them, and that is being taken down on a regular basis,” Miller said. “We also had younger adults this weekend that wiped the equipment down with disinfected wipes and then played on the playground. ... The signs and caution tape we have placed around the playgrounds is being ignored.”