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Missoula Parks & Rec adjusting to COVID-19 delays, cancellations

Posted at 9:20 PM, Apr 12, 2020

MISSOULA — With the weather recently improving around western Montana, spring and summer see outdoor recreational activities begin to take off around Missoula for adults and youths.

From soccer, to ultimate Frisbee, to pickleball and more, rec sports around the Garden City are a staple during the warmer months. But just like a lot of other activities, those leagues are also on hold due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Missoula Parks & Recreation has delayed all of its spring seasons and even canceled a select few. The leagues that are delayed hope to begin at the start of May, barring any changes from higher authorities during this outbreak. If things continue to be postponed, they have a plan in place for a start date on June 1.

“That kind of delicate algorithm that has been in place for years is now thrown off," Missoula Parks & Rec recreation program surpervisor Meg Whicher said. "All of the adult sports and sports organizations in town, were having to kind of rewrite an algorithm to figure out extending out what was happening with six months into a shorter time period with the same amount of actual physical space so it’ll be interesting.”

While delaying makes sense, Missoula Parks & Rec runs into another obstacle though if things do indeed normalize.

"What it's doing is it's pushing back the starts of all of our seasons and then pushing them longer into July and August which runs into smoke season while will be a whole other can of worms at that point," Whicher noted.

Among those canceled include junior playmaker's ultimate, adult 7v7 soccer, learn to play pickleball and an adult recreation walking program. Rugby, lacrosse, adult ultimate and plenty of soccer are among those delayed. More can be found here.

Since softball, 11v11 soccer and sand volleyball all start in May, the decisions made on their status will be determined later this month. Parks & rec are evaluating everything on a day-by-day basis rather than making one large decision on everything going forward.

“We’re just making the conscience decision to incrementally make decisions instead of broad-based things because it seems like everything has been so fluid," Whicher said.

Financially, Parks & Rec hasn't been affected as heavily thanks to being a public entity. Missoula Parks & Recreation director Donna Gaukler told MTN Sports that they refunded just under $5,000 in adult sports league fees, "which would have been used to cover program costs had the programs run as scheduled."

“Right now, we’re focused on helping Missoulians face the much greater losses they’re suffering in terms of their health and safety, economic and job loss, and much more. We’re doing everything we can to manage resources well and provide safe, accessible outdoor spaces during the pandemic," Gaukler added. "Recreation fees simply help us cover the cost of offering the program—they’re not a profit source for the department. When the program is canceled, our costs are lower."

Fields continue to be open to the public but currently cannot be rented out from what Missoula Parks & Rec calls out-of-house groups, meaning organizations and sports not run by the parks and rec department who rent the fields for use during their seasons during the spring and summer.

At Fort Missoula Regional Park, the bowl is currently closed due to increased horticulture. And for those who use the fields, social distancing is preached heavily by parks and rec and is paramount in their goal to get leagues started back up again. Missoula Parks & Rec is working closely with the CDC, the county health department and city leadership as it continues to monitor and make decisions going forward.

"The biggest questions that we're getting is well, if I'm practicing social distancing, can I still go and hike or still go and play tennis with my friends," Whicher explained. "Make decisions that are best for all of general society.

"Recreating is obviously an essential thing that we’re doing. The things are still open but making plans to meet up with a bunch of people in a city park to play a sport that’s outside of your family is not actually following the CDC guidelines of social distancing.”

You can find the latest information on closures, delays and cancellations on the Missoula Parks & Recreation website.