MISSOULA — The lack of social distancing in some city parks and recreational facilities has led to a flurry of complaints to city staff, and it prompted Missoula Mayor John Engen this week to urge the mostly young violators to practice “courtesy and common sense.”
Engen joined local healthcare providers in asking violators to keep their distance from one another, but he stopped short of saying they’d be ticketed if they continue to defy state and local orders meant to protect wider public health.
“I’m talking to you skateboarders, and to those playing on basketball courts,” Engen said. “I get it, but please maintain that social distance and do your best to stay at home.”
Members of the public have complained of pick-up basketball games at city courts, or crowding at the skateboard park. While outdoor recreation is permitted under Gov. Steve Bullock’s stay-at-home order, it comes with a caveat – maintain social distance.
“I recognize that we all go a little bit stir crazy, but if you’re on our trail system or in our parks, or you’re sharing space with your neighbors, you’ve got to maintain that social distancing,” Engen said. “Particularity if you’re a young person and you feel invincible, but you’re not and the folks you come into contact with aren’t either.”
Missoula’s network of trails and open space have been widely enjoyed by the public while other gathering places are closed, including bars, theaters and gyms.
The city also has closed other recreational facilities, including swimming pools, but it has stopped short of extending those closures to other attractions, like parks and basketball courts.
“We have considered closing some facilities, and we have closed some facilities where it’s easy to do so,” Engen said. “But it’s really tough to police that stuff on all levels. The most dire charge would be trespass, and I don’t think our police officers want to be in the business of trespassing people who are trying to have fun. They’re generally young, and they’re also putting themselves at risk by making those contacts. We could use a big dose of common sense and courtesy here.”
Cindy Farr, who is leading the pandemic response with the Missoula City-County Health Department, offered similar concerns. She asked those out recreating to be cautious and keep their distance from the person next to them.
“It’s really important that if you chose to use that as your form of recreation or exercise, that you make every attempt possible to stay six feet away from people who are not in your immediate household,” said Farr. “I know a lot of people think that just because they’re out in the open air that it puts them at less risk, but really it applies everywhere you are.”