Always open, parks like Vannie can now offer a little more


Throughout the pandemic, New York City parks have remained open, becoming a haven for those escaping their homes and looking for a little bit of exercise.

As the city prepares to enter what is hoped to be the final phases of its economic reopening plan, the city’s parks department continues to urge visitors to continue practicing social distancing measures and maintain six feet between one another.

And now, just in time for summer, more park facilities are reopening like dog runs, skate areas, grilling, playgrounds and most golf courses.

To make sure people are keeping the coronavirus pandemic in mind, patrol officers and urban park rangers will joined so-called “social distancing ambassadors” to enforce the rules, parks spokesman Dan Kastanis said.

On top of that, 15 public pools will be open July 24, with another 15 coming online by Aug. 1. That won’t include the pool at Van Cortlandt Park, however, meaning swimmers will have to settle for the pools at Crotona and Haffen parks.

Why those pools and not Vannie? The criteria for reopening pools is based on several factors, Kastanis said, including giving preference to pools located in neighborhoods heavily impacted by the coronavirus. Also, some pool areas were repurposed into testing or food distribution sites.

Despite the reopenings, many park programs remain canceled. Baseball fields and basketball courts are open for recreational use, but team sports and tournaments are prohibited.

The news is a disappointing yet expected blow to Maureen Carey-Kelly, who runs the North Riverdale Baseball League. The 2020 season was supposed to start in early April, but was postponed because of the pandemic, before cancelling the season altogether.

“We’re not supposed to be using the field at all,” Carey-Kelly said. “And parks won’t issue any permits.”

The parks department is accepting until the end of this month field and court applications for the fall, a season which begins Sept. 1. Carey-Kelly has kept in contact with the parks department throughout the pandemic, but the reopening is happening slower than she expected.

“It’s hard for the kids,” Carey-Kelly said about the league players, who range in age between 4 and 13. “They need to get out and play.”

Throughout the pandemic, it’s been hard for many parents to keep their children entertained inside. Now that restrictions are easing up, Jen Laurie is making sure her kids spend as much time outside as possible — wearing their face masks of course.

Her two children, John and Kelly, have been playing in the sports league for a few years. Not being able to play on their respective teams has been a huge social loss for them.

“We tried to fill our time with bike rides and walks,” Laurie said. “But nothing compares to the social aspect of playing on a team.”

The kids are out now, she said. They’re shooting hoops and playing catch and slowly starting to interact with other kids again. It’s been rough, but physical activity is important to Laurie and she strives to make sure her children know that.

Her daughter Kelly had been excited to play on her softball team, so it hurts that she can’t.

The league hopes to start up again in the fall, Laurie said, but she’s unsure if the younger children will be able to participate.

The younger they are, the harder it is for them to socially distance, she says. But it’s important to get most of the kids back onto the field, especially the girls.

Despite any disappointments she had, Laurie aims to look at the positives of her situation. She and her husband were able to spend more time with their kids that they normally would have since they volunteer so much of their time with the league.

“It was weird not to be at the ball field every day,” she said. “But you got to stay positive in these situations. We’ll be back at the field soon.”