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Lakeland Is Reopening Its City Parks. Here's What Is Happening In Other Counties

Lake Mirror Park, like other Lakeland parks, is reopening after city commissioners voted 6-1 in favor of that Monday. Concerns about too many people crowding into other open areas, violating safe distance guidelines, led to the decision.
City of Lakeland
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

While the numbers of COVID-19 cases continue to climb in Florida, Lakeland is relaxing some of its park restrictions.

One week after closing most parks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the city is reopening park trails, dog parks, tennis courts, pickleball courts, boat ramps and the Cleveland Heights Golf Course.

UPDATE 4/2/20: Lakeland's city commissioners reversed their decision Wednesday and will close all city parks and walking trails at midnight Thursday, following Gov. Ron DeSantis's statewide stay-at-home order.

The new rules will take effect Thursday. Picnic pavilions, playgrounds, basketball courts and bathrooms will remain closed through April 30 or until further notice, as well as gated park spaces – while still allowing for access to trails.

Lakeland commissioners voted 6-to-1 to support the move during a special meeting Monday. They argued that opening the outdoor areas would help with maintaining social distance.

READ MORE: How Tampa Bay Counties Are Handling Coronavirus Stay-At-Home Orders, Curfews And Closures

Commissioner Stephanie Madden said that the officials' previous decision to close all the parks has led to people crowding the areas that remained open.

Madden said the move to relax the restrictions was made "in consultation with residents who feel that Lake Hollingsworth, Lake Mirror and downtown are getting too congested due to our last closure of all parks last week."

"(Last week), without meaning to, we forced everybody into the same common spaces," said Commissioner Scott Franklin. "If we can relax and use common sense, then we are moving in the right direction."

The only commissioner who voted against the new rules was Sara Roberts McCarley.

"I'm happy to have the trails open so people can walk. I'm still hesitant about the courts," she said.

Mayor William Mutz said that the government would continue monitoring the situation and if the data shows sharp increases in COVID-19 cases, the officials will discuss the possibility of stricter measures.

Meanwhile, all county-owned parks and natural resource facilities in Polk County remain closed until further notice.

Here is how other counties across the Tampa Bay are managing public access to outdoor recreation areas as of Tuesday.

Citrus County: All County Parks are closed. Boat ramps remain open. Bicentennial Pool, Fort Island Gulf and Hernando Beaches are closed until further notice.

Hernando County: All county parks remain open except the following: Pine Island Beach Park, the Rogers Park swimming area and the Linda Pedersen Park swimming area.

Hillsborough County: Officials have tightened restrictions, closing all county parks and preserves on March 28. Boat ramps remain open.

Manatee CountyAccording to the county’s website, “tennis and pickleball courts will be closed temporarily since crowds continue to gather without practicing social distancing. Areas that cannot be locked will be monitored by safety guards and law enforcement agencies. The City of Bradenton will close its Riverwalk Skate Park. Manatee County will post Closed signs on the skateparks at G.T. Bray and Blackstone parks." The new closures went into effect Tuesday.

Pasco County: All parks and nature preserves are closed. All boat ramps and the Suncoast Trail remain open.

Pinellas County: County public parks are open, except Heritage Village Park, and beach access at Sand Key Park, Fred Howard Park and Fort De Soto Park. Boat ramps and other water access sites, except beaches, also remain open. However, all playgrounds, picnic shelters and recreation center buildings within parks are closed. Most of the dog parks, tennis and pickleball courts are open.

Polk County: All county parks and natural resource facilities are closed until further notice. This includes parks with playgrounds and recreational leagues, environmental lands and trails, campgrounds, dog parks, the shooting range, History Center, Circle B Bar Reserve, Bone Valley ATV Park, Homeland Heritage Park and resource centers. County boat ramps are open.

Sarasota County: County parks are open. Boat ramps are open. All playgrounds, tennis courts, pickleball courts, basketball courts, volleyball courts and dog parks are closed for public use.

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Maria Tsyruleva is the WUSF/USF Zimmerman School digital news editor for fall 2019.