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Parks? Pools? What Are Boise's Plans For Summer 2021?

Frankie Barnhill
Boise State Public Radio

The pandemic robbed Boiseans of countless outdoor activities as COVID-19 raged through the summer of 2020.

And while "cautious optimism" are the watchwords this year, as more people take advantage of vaccines and all public school students return to full-time, in-person instruction, most families are looking forward to the schoool year being over and a return to city parks and trails.

"If there's any indication of people being tired of being indoors and tired of the pandemic, it has been the fact that our parks have just been slammed," said Doug Holloway, director of the City of Boise Parks and Recreation Department. "The Greenbelt, our Foothills Trails system has experienced a three-time increase in volume."

Holloway visited with Morning Edition host George Prentice to talk about his department's early plans for the summer and what visitors should or shouldn't expect.

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It is Morning Edition on Boise State Public Radio News. Good morning. I'm George Prentice. Well, all grades -  pre-K through 12th grade - returned to full time in-person instruction at Boise schools this week… a very big deal. The next day that kids, parents and teachers are looking at on the calendar is the last day of school, which is only about two months away. And that's when more of us look to do more outdoors… parks and… pools?  So, let's talk a bit about that this morning. Doug Holloway is on the line. He’s the man in charge of the City of Boise’s Parks and Recreation Department. Doug, good morning.

DOUG HOLLOWAY: Good morning, George. Thanks for having us on today.

PRENTICE: Well, right out front: is it possible for city pools to operate this year?

Credit freefotouk / Flickr

HOLLOWAY: Well George, if we've learned anything from the year of 2020, it's never to say never and never to say absolutely. We're still planning on pools not being open in the summer of 2021. We did give ourselves a little bit of wiggle room that, at some point in the mid spring time, we would reevaluate where we were at in feeling like we could open, if we were to choose to open pools and if we can do it safely. But No. 2, and maybe it's even 1A, was the financial consideration. Pools are already heavily subsidized by the city. And the fact that we felt like if we were to open safely, it would be with limited admissions. And that, in turn, would have an impact on higher subsidy pools in at a time when we're not able to generate the kind of revenue citywide that we normally would be able to generate because of the pandemic. To add more burden on that subsidy was just something that we weren't prepared to really move forward with in 2021. And that's why we made the decision when we did. Today, it's still the decision, still in place that in 2021, the pools will not be operating. But again, you know, you never say never. We’ll evaluate at some point in the spring and then decide whether it is something we may be able to do. But at this point in time, it's still status quo with no opening in 2021.

PRENTICE: Ok, good to know.  Your department hires a lot of young men and women every year. Are you moving forward with that?

HOLLOWAY: We are and will continue to move forward with that. We're planning on launching almost all of our summer programing as if we were in a normal season. Is it a normal year? The problem is we're not. And so, we are limited in the number of participants that we can actually hire, that we can actually provide programing to in things like our play camp, in our classes, in our various other recreation camps that we offer during the summer. We're running probably 30- to 40 percent capacity. So, we don't need to hire as many young folks as we normally would because we just don't need them with the limited number of admissions. But where we are at capacity and we'll continue to hire, in our in need of continuing to hire, is in our park maintenance areas. We do a large number of seasonals every summer. And so, we're still looking for seasonal employees in that area because we we're not limited on the amount of maintenance we need to do in our parks to keep them maintained and usable for our customers. And it’s the same with our Foothills trail system and the same with our Greenbelt. So, we're looking for folks in the maintenance area. But in the programing area, because of our protocol safety protocols in place, we probably aren't hiring as many as we normally would.

PRENTICE: Those maintenance jobs…Is there an age threshold on that? Do you have to be eighteen? What ages do you accept?

HOLLOWAY: We've hired folks as young as 16, depending on the need. And they can go to the city's website, link to the human resource specific website, and get all the information on what openings we have and what we're recruiting for.

PRENTICE: I'm looking at the list of parks and recreation openings: and that includes Zoo Boise with the limited number of visitors, of course there are the golf courses, the skate parks, the dog parks, the tennis courts, the basketball courts. Are you moving any closer to the possibility of reopening the Senior Center?

HOLLOWAY: We get that question quite a bit. At this point in time, we're going to hold firm to no consideration of opening until the fall. That actually is moving up a tiny bit from where I really thought it wouldn't be till the end of the year. But the way vaccinations are rolling out, the way the virus numbers continue to at least stabilize, if not go down a little bit. I'm hopeful that we could get our Senior Center open at some point during the fall. But as far as the summertime, we're pretty well set in saying it's not going to open. We're still offering the congregate meals. It's curbside pickup. And that's still fairly popular with our senior population. We're doing a lot of virtual outreach with that population as well. And we'll continue that engagement to keep them engaged until we can actually get the center open and get them back in person.

PRENTICE: You've got a new downtown park at 11th and Bannock. Any news yet on a possible name for that park?

HOLLOWAY: That's a great question, too, George. We're working through that right now. We have formed a committee that's made up of board members from some Downtown Business Association members, some local business members from downtown and a few city employees. And we have been working through that process over the last 30 to 45 days. We have some meetings on the books to now narrow down some of those suggested names that have come in from the public. And then we'll run some of those names by our leadership in the city, our mayor's office and some council members. And then we'll send out a small list to the public and have them vote on that final list of names. And then the next process would be to take it to the Parks and Recreation Commission for their approval and adoption, and then it will go to the city council for their approval and adoption.  We can expect that sometime by the end of May.

PRENTICE: End of May. OK, I would love to be a fly on the wall to see some of these submissions.

HOLLOWAY: I think we had over a thousand entries that came in. I think it was actually 1,200 and some. You know how our citizens are. They can be really super creative. And so, we got a lot of interesting names. So, we’ll get it narrowed down to three, four or five that we can send back out to the public.

PRENTICE: Doug, I'm going to guess that you've seen the forecast lately.

Camel's Back Park North End Foothills
Credit Frankie Barnhill / Boise State Public Radio
Boise State Public Radio

HOLLOWAY: If there's any indication of people being tired of being indoors and tired of the pandemic, it has been the fact that our parks have just been slammed. Our golf courses have been slammed. The greenbelt, our Foothills Trails system has experienced a three time increase in volume. And the zoo is just completely booked all day, every day. And again, the weather is certainly a part of it, but I believe people are just really fatigued with the pandemic and are ready to get out and start enjoying this great Boise environment we live in. We expect a really super busy spring and summer time and we're really looking forward to addressing the needs of our customers and our citizens and just really looking forward to people, back out exercising and participating in Parks and Recreation programing in the City of Boise.

PRENTICE: He is Doug Holloway, the man in charge of the City of Boise Parks and Recreation Department. Doug, have a great morning.

HOLLOWAY: Great. Thank you, George. I appreciate the time.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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