Stowe residents now have more opportunities to get outside and get some fresh air.
The Stowe Select Board voted Monday to reopen the basketball and tennis courts at Memorial Park, as long as people continue to observe social-distancing guidelines.
The park has been off-limits to the public since March 27, when the select board voted to close it, following complaints that visitors there were gathering in groups and not maintaining a distance of 6 feet from one another.
While the courts are open, they will remain so only as long as people keep their distance.
“They want people to go out and get fresh air and exercise, but they don’t want people crowding each other,” said Town Manager Charles Safford about coronavirus directives from Gov. Phil Scott and the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development.
On May 6, Gov. Scott relaxed social-distancing guidelines to allow people to “resume limited social interactions and gatherings of 10 or fewer, preferably in outdoor settings, provided that physical distancing and protocols for hygiene are consistent.”
The amended order “requires Vermonters participating in outdoor recreation and fitness activities to arrive, play and leave. Groups may not congregate before or after activities, for example, not tailgating.”
“If it looks like people are not following guidance, is there an option to shut it back down?” asked Billy Adams, the board vice chair, about Memorial Park, located adjacent to Stowe Elementary School.
Yes, Safford replied.
“Is the timing right, and are we set up to do it right the first time?” Adams asked.
Safford told the board that the proposal to reopen the courts — suggested by Adam Rice, who’s on the Stowe Recreation Commission — had the support of Stowe Police Chief Don Hull and Town Health Officer Kyle Walker.
While people playing singles tennis are — by the very nature of the game — engaging in social distancing, Adams expressed reservations about basketball.
“You can’t social distance in a game. There’s no way to do that,” Adams said.
The governor’s order indicates that basketball courts can reopen for people to engage in “non-contact activities,” such as shooting baskets as opposed to a full-on game, as long as there are signs posted to prohibit that contact.
Adams also asked Safford about opening the courts only for locals, a move that Safford said would be difficult to enforce.
Board member Nick Donza asked what other towns are doing in terms of reopening their parks.
“Are other towns doing the same thing, or are our courts going to get mobbed?” Donza asked.
In Waterbury, on May 8, the town began what it referred to as “Phase One” of the reopening plan for its parks, which allows singles tennis and non-contact basketball, and opens up the skate park to no more than five skaters and the disk golf course to no more than 10 people.
The town of Johnson does not have its own basketball or tennis courts. Johnson Elementary School and Northern Vermont University-Johnson do have them, but both schools are currently closed. The town has reopened its bike track and is working toward reopening the skate park and the playground.
Back in Stowe, the playground — which town officials referred to as a “high-contact area” — will remain closed for now. Studies show the coronavirus lingers for an extended time on playground equipment.
The select board voted to allow downtown businesses to place freestanding sandwich board-style signs on town sidewalks to advertise their businesses.
In 2019, the board voted to allow temporary signs so businesses could promote their wares during the summer construction season.
That order expired in November; however, this spring, some businesses put out signs to indicate they are still open during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, with the relaxing of social-distancing rules from the state, Main Street construction work can restart.
Businesses will be allowed to display the signs during the construction season, and while COVID-19 rules are in place.